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Made to measure?

Measuring age diversity locally and how it affects our health and well-being

by Professor Martin Hyde


There are growing concerns that British society is becoming more generationally divided and that this is having negative social consequences, such as increasing loneliness and social isolation.

Numerous media headlines have decried the apparent growing division between older and younger sections of our society. Journalists point to generational differences in political attitudes and activism, in wealth and home-ownership and, [voting for] Brexit.

Sadly it has become commonplace for commentators and even politicians to claim that the older generation has stolen the future from the younger generations. We saw this generational conflict manifest on social media during the Covid-19 pandemic, with awful hashtags such as #BoomerRemover.

The reasons behind these developments are complex. However, the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Social Integration in the UK identified residential age segregation as a key driver of this generational divide.

The concern is that the combined impact of migration (with younger people moving to the cities for work and older adults moving out to coastal and countryside areas), housing policies and economic conditions means that older and younger people are less and less likely to live in the same places.

The evidence is concerning. In their 2016 report the Intergenerational Foundation analysed levels of age segregation in the UK’s 25 biggest cities and found that in 2014 only 5% of people who live in the same neighbourhood as someone under the age of 18 are aged over 65. Other research has shown that this pattern of spatial polarisation between older and younger age groups has been widening since 1991.

This means that people are less likely to come into contact with people, especially non-family members, from different age groups. Consequently, it is easier and easier for people to fall into an ‘us-and-them’ way of thinking, underpinned by ageist stereotypes.

Policy makers are concerned that this could have negative health, economic, social and political costs. Indeed, a report by the Intergenerational Foundation estimated that age-segregation could cost the UK economy £6 billion per year.

However, while the evidence for widening residential age segregation raises concerns, there are some issues. For a start, different studies use different measures of age segregation. This makes it hard to compare the findings from various studies.

Another issue is that age segregation measures, by definition, only compare two groups, i.e. older v younger. This represents a narrow view of intergenerationality, as comprising only relationships between younger and older age groups, which overlooks those in other age groups, e.g. those in middle age.

To address this issue we have created a new measure called the ‘area level index of age diversity’ which uses information from people of all ages to get a better idea of the mix of age groups in an area. We’ve calculated this measure for all the neighbourhoods in the UK from 2002 onwards.

By using this measure we hope to a) look at what areas in the UK are more or less age diverse, b) how patterns of residential age diversity have changed over the past decades and c) to examine whether living in more or less age diverse areas impacts on our health and well-being.

We are very excited to be working on this project and will share our findings with you as we get them.

In our next blog we will look at the map of age diverse neighbourhoods across the UK as a whole.

December 2023


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