Home | About | Research Questions

Research Questions

Are the effects of societal changes and systems on individual outcomes mediated by social inequalities?

One example of major social change is the crime drop experienced by many developed (and developing) countries since the early 1990s. Our AQMeN research has shown that the crime drop reflects an increase in inequality between victims, offenders and communities at highest and lowest risk (Bannister et al. forthcoming, McVie et al. 2015). Falling crime has juxtaposed sharply with a sharp rise in the prison population, and evidence suggests wider societal change has been counterbalanced by systemic bias and flawed penal policies. Selection biases operate within criminal justice systems to selectively incapacitate the ‘usual suspects’ (McAra and McVie 2007, 2010) and within school systems through exclusion policies (Losen and Gillespie 2012), both of which have a profound effects on longer term outcomes.

Why do some people and places remain resilient to social inequalities over time?

Research on social inequalities tends to compare the chances of individuals from different social backgrounds and make assumptions about their long term success or failure on a particular outcome. For example, social mobility research typically examines the relationship between family socio-economic status and labour market destinations, the hypothesis being that those from more deprived backgrounds will fare less well (Breen 2004; Paterson and Iannelli 2007). Much less attention has been given to studying the life-course of those individuals from less advantaged social backgrounds who manage to break the vicious cycle of social reproduction (‘resilient people’) and become upwardly mobile, whether in terms of education, social class or labour market outcomes.

What are the causal drivers of inequality in the exposure to crime?

This research is focused around four inter-related questions:

•    Has exposure to crime and disorder changed across space and through time?
•    What are the causal drivers of crime inequalities?
•    How do models of risk assessment and deployment impact on crime inequalities?
•    Can indices of harm and vulnerability inform strategic and operational decision making to confront crime inequalities?

These questions have been shaped through dialogue with Understanding Inequalities research partners (including data providers) to address key policy challenges in Scotland and internationally.

What is the impact of changing ethnic mix on social inequalities?

Scotland is often presented as more tolerant of migrants and ethnic diversity than south of the border. The anti-immigration sentiment that drove much of the Brexit campaign in England and Wales was, for example, much less prominent in Scotland where the majority of people voted against Brexit in the referendum. But is this popular view of Scotland as a place of tolerance and acceptance borne out in the way migrant workers are treated in the workplace and wider society? We focus on the following three questions:   

•   Are ethnic inequalities in Scotland any different to those in the rest of the UK?

•   How have changing patterns of poverty and ethnic mix affected educational & labour market trajectories by ethnic group?

•   How important is residential segregation in shaping life outcomes? And how important are location factors in the early years of life compared with where one lives later in life?

What is the impact of decentralisation of poverty on processes of inequality?

Compared with the rest of the UK, Scotland has had a much stronger policy commitment to reducing inequality, particularly since the Scotland Act of 1998 which initiated the process of devolving policy making powers to the Scottish Government. Despite this commitment, income inequality in Scotland is probably higher now than it was before devolution. For example, the Gini coefficient in Scotland in 1998/1999 was 0.31, compared to 0.34 in 2015/2016.

However, inequality is not just about income. The experience of inequality is driven by a whole range of factors that affect wellbeing over the life course, including housing quality, education, health, employment, the quality of the outdoor environment and crime, among other things. How has inequality with respect to these important outcomes fared in Scotland compared to England?

How do inequalities in childhood affect us now and in our later lives?

Most studies of inequalities have focused on outcomes in young and later adulthood in specific national contexts (chiefly the US and the larger Western European countries). In contrast, the long-term consequences of early years experiences and how these experiences are shaped by institutional factors has been relatively underexplored. How best to conceptualise and measure inequalities remains subject to debate, with many studies confining attention to a single measure of social background, such as parental education, on the basis of data availability. Furthermore, the increasing recognition that social groups have diverse experiences across multiple contexts has not been matched by empirical analyses of the interplay between different aspects of social background in shaping outcomes. National birth and child cohort studies provide rich data on the lives of children in their early and middle years, but to date these have been rarely used to explore the development of inequalities across the life course or to analyse cross-national differences.