Professor Eric Kaufmann

The integration debate often focuses on whether some minority groups are living apart from the rest of society. On that score, many academics point to a decline in ethnic segregation in England and Wales. But what if minorities are willing to dance, yet the majority is not? White avoidance helps explain why, even as individual ethnic groups such as Pakistanis or Africans are becoming less segregated, there has been no change in white-minority segregation for two decades. Moreover, in certain ‘superdiverse’ zones of England’s major cities, minority groups’ exposure to White British people has been declining.

It has long been understood that attempts to integrate whites and blacks in America have foundered on white reluctance. Experiments in integrated living such as Starrett City, Brooklyn, or Oak Park, Illinois, survived only so long as black demand was restricted by quotas. Once quotas were deemed unconstitutional and minority share rose, the white share rapidly declined in these areas.

Increasingly, the patterns noticed in America are being replicated in Europe. Experiments using show cards with twelve racially-coded houses in which the mix ranges from 1/12 (9%) white to all-white find that white American, Dutch and British respondents all prefer to live in neighbourhoods with a 65-80 percent white majority.

There is also a common pattern in which wards that are relatively white tend to retain or attract white residents whereas places with a larger minority share tend to progressively lose white residents. This even as minorities move out of their areas of concentration.

Let’s compare White British with Bangladeshis in the four maps below, broken down by wards, which contain around 6,500 people apiece. The maps at left show the concentration of Bangladeshis and White British by London ward, with the group most overrepresented in the bluest areas. Maps at right show which wards experienced the greatest relative change in the 2001-11 period. Notice how Bangladeshis have increased most outside their zone of concentration in Inner East London. White British, on the other hand, have increased most – or rather decreased least – in roughly the same places where they are already concentrated: Havering, Hillingdon, and much of Outer South London. There is some increase in relatively diverse Hackney and the leafier, more Jewish bits of North London, but that’s about it.


You can see the same pattern in the graphs below, which move beyond London to examine all of England and Wales. These show that the share of Bangladeshis in 2001 in a ward is uncorrelated with the increase in Bangladeshis in the 2000s – a flat line. By contrast, wards that contained more White British people in 2001 saw a significantly smaller decline in their White British share in the 2000s, resulting in an upward slope. In other words, white wards retained their White British population better.


You can see a similar pattern in American and European cities. This is largely the result of white ‘avoidance’ whereby whites avoid diverse wards and choose to move to ones that are over 70 percent white. It is not because of white ‘flight’ from wards where whites are in the minority.

It adds up to a picture in which ethnic minorities such as Bangladeshis or Afro-Caribbeans are leaving their historic communities  - good for integration - but White British are departing - bad for integration. This results in the rise of ‘superdiverse’ wards in boroughs such as Newham or Brent, characterised by a lively mix of minority groups but few White British, a statistic brought home by a recent BBC documentary entitled ‘Last Whites of the East End.’

A good summary of what’s happening is provided by Gemma Catney  of the University of Liverpool. Notice, how, across London and the rest of England, the White British stick out for having higher segregation in 2011 compared to 2001.


What is interesting is that white UKIP voters and white liberals don’t differ much in the kinds of places they choose to move to. Both plump for relatively white areas compared to minority movers from the same places.

Two patterns emerge from this which challenge integration. First, in a growing swath of metropolitan England, minorities’ exposure to the White British – as calculated by the Index of Isolation within these zones – is declining. In 2001, 25 percent of nonwhites in England and Wales lived in wards where whites were in the minority. In 2011 that figure had reached 41 percent. Among minority schoolchildren, isolation from White British in diverse zones is even greater.

As the share of minorities increases, White British will have more contact with minorities as minorities enter white areas – which improves integration – but minorities in multiethnic zones will have less contact with whites as whites avoid diversity. The challenge, therefore, is to convince White British people to remain in, or move to, places that are less than 65 percent white.

Britain is a free country, so it’s not possible to tell people where to live. However, ‘nudges’ such as designing new homes in traditional rather than modern styles, with gardens rather than driveways, may help attract White British to diverse suburbs. Traditionally English designs and images on school websites may make some difference. Experiments can help us determine which nudges work, while randomised control trials could be used to pilot them. In Britain, Europe and North America, minority isolation from whites in superdiverse zones is becoming an increasingly important problem.

Eric Kaufmann is Professor of Politics at Birkbeck College, University of London. His latest publication is a Demos report, freely available, entitled Changing Places: the White British response to ethnic change