One of the most surprising findings of the 2011 census was the extent to which white British people have opted to leave London. Eric Kaufmann explores the possibility that we are seeing ‘white flight’ from London, though he cautions against jumping to conclusions in the absence of sufficient empirical evidence.
Of all the changes announced by the 2011 census, one of the most startling is the rapid change in the ethnic composition of London’s population. This has caught experts by surprise and reflects an underestimate of the extent to which white British people have opted to leave an increasingly diverse London.
Between 2001 and 2011, the proportion of white British in London’s population fell from 58 to 45 per cent. The share of ethnic minorities reached 40 per cent of the total, a 39 percent increase, while whites of non-British origin grew by a whopping 52 per cent. The share of minorities in London has increased by a percentage point a year since 1991.
This has caught many by surprise. ‘By 2031 39 per cent of London’s population is projected to be from a BAME [minority] group,’ a 2010 Greater London Authority planning report announced. Last year, a group of the UK’s leading academic geographers took the GLA to task for overstating the pace of change and projected that in 2031, London would still be 64.5 per cent white. The train has arrived 20-30 years early – in 2011, London is already 59.9 per cent white. Analysts implied that London would not become ‘majority minority’ in most of our lifetimes, but the latest census figures suggest otherwise.
How did the demographers, many of whom I know and respect, get it so wrong? Don’t blame demography, which is the most predictive of the social sciences, because the ethnic composition of today’s 5 year-olds is mathematically linked to the population of 50 year-olds in 45 years’ time. Though political considerations may have affected the projections at the edges, this cannot be the explanation since projections for England were largely accurate. Minority fertility is not the issue: if anything minority birth rates have probably fallen faster than predicted.
Immigration underestimates may be a partial factor, but what is far more critical is that the experts misread white outmigration from London. One of those who got it right was geographer John Stillwell of Leeds University, who noticed there was large shift of whites from diverse wards in London to less diverse wards in the outer suburbs, and an even more dramatic white outlflow from relatively white wards of London to other parts of England and Wales. In Barking and Dagenham, to take an extreme example, a third of the white British population departed between 2001 and 2011. Since many lack the resources to move or are council tenants, this suggests that a majority of local white British who could leave may have done so.
Yet we should not jump to any hasty conclusions. In our Demos project, Diversity and the White Working Class, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, Gareth Harris and I put the concept of ‘white flight’ under a magnifying glass by asking why there has been a disproportionate shift of white British people out of diverse areas.
While white avoidance of ethnic minorities is the first thought that comes to mind, it’s important to consider the alternative explanations. Most diverse wards are urban and poor. Whites may be leaving for better schools, cheaper homes, fresher air, or because they are more likely to be retirees, wealthier or better educated. Only a statistical approach which controls for these factors can tell us whether ethnic preferences are key.
The UK’s excellent ONS Longitudinal Study and Understanding Society longitudinal survey ask people about their political and ideological leanings, English national identity and other questions that will help us to compare white British people who remain in diverse areas with those who leave. During 2013 we hope to provide a definitive answer as to whether conservative, Daily Mail-reading whites who identify as English are more likely to leave diverse neighbourhoods than liberal whites who identify as British. We also look at interconnections between white working-class mobility, opinion on immigration and far right voting.
American and British research shows that minorities are moving out of their areas of concentration to better neighbourhoods. However, white Americans tend to leave or avoid ‘majority minority’ neighbourhoods and seek out areas that are over 70 per cent white. Given the large increase in Hispanic and Asian populations in America, this is resulting in ever larger heavily-minority zones in America’s most diverse metropolitan areas. Whether Britain will follow in America’s footsteps is an open question: much will depend on the residential preferences of working-class British whites and whether they are able to realise them.
This was first published on the Demos blog.
Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the British Politics and Policy blog, nor of the London School of Economics. Please read our comments policy before posting.
Eric Kaufmann is Professor of Politics at Birkbeck College, University of London. He can be found on the web here.
It has been almost 10 years since this article was posted. I wonder how much worse the situation is now. I suppose the next census will reveal that the white population has reduced again by 10 percent.
It has begun.See Sweden/Woolwich.
How is Uncle Gerald? Has he given back or paid for the chrystal grapefruit dishes that he acquired on M.P.s’ expenses? He didn’t look a happy bunny when he got caught. Typical Labour M.P. telling everyone else to be a liberal/socialist while lining his pockets at the “people’s” expense. And they knighted him. Thieving swine.
@Joshua Izaakson. Completely on point. At least some of the rich lefty idiots who let this happen will finally be behind bars.
Of course London is experiencing white flight. Open your eyes and look around you. My husband and I are only hanging on for the next eight years until we retire and both our children hate London (even though they were born here they want to move away) We feel like foreigners in our own country. You rarely hear English being spoken around here. I walk to work to avoid the buses. When my daughter left primary school there were two white English girls in her class. All the headteacher seemed bothered to do was learn about Africa!! and street dance. She made very average grades in English & Maths and I put a lot of effort into teaching her at home.
English family in south east London (in a minority)
London in 20 years will just be a city of rich whites living in gated communities and poor ethnic minorites living in shanty towns. St Paul’s Cathedral and other landmarks will be no go zones for white British. It will have become like Johannesburg which was once a fist class global city and is now a crime infested dump. All in the interests of not offending immigrants. The white working class will have completely disappeared. The liberals have made it a crime for white British to question this. I would like to live and work in London but can’t afford to as the housing is always given to immigrants first.
unless the academic asks ‘how do you feel about your high street becoming full of kebab shops’ ‘how do you feel about your high street becoming full of pound shops’ ‘how do you feel about your local area becoming so full of litter you will not believe your eyes’. etc. if he’s just asking ‘do you read the Daily Mail’ etc then he’s just looking to fullfil his own stereo-types about people who leave.
but i’ve lived in London and there’s no one, Chinese, European, no one can stand immigrant areas, everyone, no matter the nationality or ethnicity likes them, they’re dumps, they’re over-crowded and a filthy, dumpey, depressing hell holes. the English can’t get council property any more, is that going to be on his list of questions? ‘dd you get put on a 20yr wait list and have to watch as a Somalian family of 7 were given one in weeks?’ it might give him the wrong answers though, academics only ever construct their questions so that the answers will fit their left-wing narrative.
if it wont let them conclude that inequality and the neo-liberal capitalist system forced them out then they wont ask it. they will not go anywhere near asking questions that might tell them that Left-wing policies robbed them of their ability to continue to living surrounded by their friends and family in the area that they grew up in. there will be no questions about the way that immigrant families were able to game the system on the council waiting list. those questions might produce the wrong answers.
far better to stick with questions that take as their starting point ‘why did the whites, err, . . . ‘opt to’. . . and . . . er . . . ‘volunteer to’. . leave the centre of London’. those are guarenteed to produce Left-wing, Labour party pleasing answers, so that the academics a few months from now will be able to do their ‘as suspected, due to the whites racism, fascism, intolerance and prejudice’ answers.
Very interesting analysis here, though I’ve always been of the opinion that ‘white flight’ is mainly a US phenomenon, rather than a UK one – mainly due to the history of segregation in US cities.
A key question is, does it even have anything to do with race? According to other ONS statistics Londoners reported lower levels of life-satisfaction & higher levels of anxiety than typical for the UK. http://prettygraphs.wordpress.com/2012/11/16/why-are-londoners-so-anxious/
As a global-city London is unique in terms of its economic and social structure, but is it a case of a cramped, unequal mega-city on one hand attracting those seeking opportunity, whilst repelling those who have made it and who have the resources to escape.
Are you really surprised at this? I find, depressingly, that after talking about the weather, the first thing a random white person that you are just getting to know will express is some kind of racism. Wasn’t it thought that Boris Johnson won the mayoral election by ‘speaking for the neglectged suburbs’? I always took this to mean he spoke for white people who moved out of areas where their children would have to attend mixed schools and then discover how few facilities there are (e.g. public transport). Someone I will not name but who is now an eminent professor of sociology once told me that anyone (he meant white parent) would do their damnest to avoid schools with a lot of ethnic minority children “lets face it”.