Home | Research Themes | Spatial


Block of high rise flats

Many aspects of inequality derive from where people live, work, grow up, go to school and retire. These spatial inequalities are sometimes referred to as a “postcode lottery” – people living in different neighbourhoods have very different life outcomes even though those neighbourhoods are in the same area of the city. Our research will seek to estimate the geographical aspects of inequality, and examine how they have been affected by changing spatial patterns of poverty.  We will look at factors such as inequality in proximity to employment and essential services such as schools, environmental risks (such as air pollution), and exposure to crime. We will also seek to understand how these inequalities interact to affect life outcomes.

We will also look at patterns of migration and the changing ethnic make up of workplaces, neighbourhoods and schools to examine the impact of these changes on factors such as crime and educational performance.

We will also seek to analyse the causal drivers of crime inequalities and the ways in which patterns of poverty and inequalities overlap with and impact on patterns of crime and disorder.

Below are some of the research questions we seek to answer. These link closely with our research into Crime, Housing, Environmental and Socio-economic inequalities.

Research Papers

Decentralisation, suburbanisation and inequality in England and Scotland after devolution

Scottish governments and think tanks over the past two decades have tended to look across the North Sea, rather than the Atlantic, for inspiration. The desire to follow the Nordic model rather than the American one on issues of social and economic inequality has become one of the defining features of Scottish politics compared to the rest of the UK. Since the Scotland Act of 1998, more and more of the powers needed to pursue a more egalitarian social vision have been devolved to the Scottish Government, enabling it to take a different course to its neighbour south of the Border, should it so choose. Given that 2018 is the twentieth anniversary of the Scotland Act, now seems like a timely moment to take stock. Can we see divergent paths emerging with regard to different dimensions of inequality relative to England?

Poverty, employment and access to amenities in polycentric cities: measuring the decentralisation of poverty and its impacts in England and Wales

A growing number studies of European and North American cities have shown that poverty is moving away from urban centres in a process known as the decentralisation (or suburbanisation) of poverty. These findings raise important questions about the impact on the quality of life for poorer residents who face financial constraints with respect to their access to transport. This paper investigates the implications of decentralisation of poverty for inequality in access to amenities and employment.
We define “access” in terms of distance to these features. Using data on England and Wales, we find that the decentralisation of poverty has led to greater inequalities between poor and non-poor households in access to both employment and amenities in large urban areas.

Hidden inequalities in the exposure to crime in Glasgow and Manchester

It is well evidenced that exposure to crime varies across urban space, with crime concentrating within a small proportion of locations (Weisburd, 2015; Rey et al, 2012; Braga et al, 2010). Further evidence suggests the spatial pattering of crime is associated with deprivation (Livingston et al., 2014). Thus, certain types of communities bear a disproportionate burden of recorded crime and with that, disorder and vulnerability. Building on the work of Hope et al (2001), this research will seek to assess whether there are also hidden inequalities in the exposure to crime. In other words, are certain types of community less likely to report crime and, therefore, experience an even greater burden of crime than that manifest by recorded crime? Relatedly, if certain types of community are more likely to report crime, do they capture a disproportionate amount of police resource?

The spatial reordering of poverty and its association with property and violent crime in Glasgow and Birmingham 2001-2016

There is growing evidence of the spatial reordering or suburbanisation of poverty (Kavanagh et al., 2016; Bailey and Minton, 2017) and its detrimental impact on the life chances of poorer people (Zhang and Pryce, forthcoming) in UK cities.  This paper extends this body of research through exploring the potential association between the spatial re-ordering of poverty and crime. The strength of the association between poverty and crime, once a bedrock conclusion of international research, has increasingly been challenged (Dhiri et al., 1999; Hipp and Yates, 2011; Tilley et al., 2011; Metz and Burdina, 2018). However, existing research typically deploys a single poverty measure, does not take account of different crime types, adopts a large spatial scale of analysis and does not contrast findings across different settings.

The crime drop and neighbourhood inequalities in the exposure to crime: A longitudinal study of violent and property crime in Glasgow and Birmingham (2001-2016)

Since the 1990s, a dramatic decline in recorded crime has been observed across many developed polities (Aebi and Linde, 2010; Tseloni et al., 2010). Set against this finding, there has been limited attention paid to the crime drop at the neighbourhood level, an exception being Bannister et al (2017) who found marked distinction in the crime drop trajectories of different neighbourhood groupings in Glasgow. Building upon this finding, this paper seeks to explore whether the crime drop has resulted in an increase in inequalities in the exposure to crime. The analysis utilises police recorded property and violent crime in Glasgow and Birmingham, enabling assessment of whether any observed shifting inequalities in the exposure to crime can be considered place specific or part of wider area trends.

Crime cascade networks and their relationship to administrative boundaries and social frontiers

Bannister et al. (2015) found growing inequalities in exposure to crime due to crime rates falling more in some areas than others. This raises a number of questions. How do crime fads and trends emerge? How do they spread to other neighbourhoods? Why are some neighbourhoods impervious to particular fads and trends, but susceptible to others? Where do particular fads and trends start and finish? To what extent is the crime linkage non-spatial? Are neighbourhoods linked through movements in crime linked in other ways?  And how fragile or robust is the network of crime links? To understand inequalities in exposure to crime and why they shift over time, we need to understand the wider mechanism for crime transmission.

Tipping vs Churning: To what extent are tipping-point effects offset or explained by neighbourhood churn?

Galster and others have tested for tipping points in various aspects of neighbourhood effects -  i.e. it is only when poverty or ethnic mix reach a certain threshold that impacts on life outcomes, neighbourhood trajectory or white flight become apparent. There is, however, an important mitigating factor in such thresholds and that is neighbourhood instability. In neighbourhoods with a high degree of churn – perhaps because of their close proximity to employment or educational opportunities that are temporary in nature – the effect of composition in terms of ethnicity may be less important as it is lost amid the noise of residential turnover. Note that endogenous (intra-neighborhood) turnover must be distinguished somehow from exogenously induced turnover. If an increase in ethnic mix is combined with an increase in churn, the effects may be exacerbated, particularly for indigenous residents who place a high value on neighbourhood stability. And neighbourhood stability may itself be important as it reflects (and makes it more possible) long term friendships and social connections at the neighbourhood level.

Is there a diversity premium in Scottish schools? How have changing patterns of poverty and ethnic mix affected educational trajectories by ethnic group?

We are interested in whether changes in the ethnic/ cultural mix of pupils in schools can affect education outcomes for pupils from different backgrounds. Previous research (Burgess, 2014) has shown that white children from deprived households are likely to perform better if they are in schools with children of mixed ethnic backgrounds rather than in an all-white school. We seek to establish whether such an effect holds true in Scotland, to understand whether there are threshold effects and whether there is an optimal level of social and ethnic mix for educational outcomes. More generally, we are interested in establishing the degree and nature of ethnic inequality in educational outcomes.
Fragmentation of traditional working class communities through decentralisation and changing spatial ordering of poverty combined with influx of new ethnicities opens up a range of questions about the impacts on different socio-ethnic groups.

Have ethnic minorities decentralised in Scottish cities, and what is the impact on access to employment, schooling and health services?

We have seen significant changes to the centralisation and spatial ordering of poverty in Scottish cities, but we know little about how these effects or their consequences differ for ethnic minorities.
In this research paper we are interested in addressing two key questions:

(1) has there been significant changes to the spatial distribution of different ethnic minorities (particularly in terms of decentralisation and spatial ordering)?

(2) what have been the impacts in terms of their access to employment, education and health services (GP surgeries), and their exposure to pollution, and crime?

We plan to investigate this using similar methodology to that used by Zhang & Pryce (2018) and to focus on inter-ethnic differences.

This research is in development. If you have any questions about this work, please contact Professor Gwilym Pryce.

Against all odds: Enabling factors in early childhood for cognitive outcomes

This research investigates the extent to which children from more disadvantaged backgrounds achieve cognitive outcomes higher than their peers and the factors which are behind their more successful outcomes in a life-course perspective. The aim is to identify and understand specific factors and turning points in children’s lives which can help children to overcome the negative influences of the social disadvantage they are born in and to shed light on the mechanisms at play. Thus, we ask the following questions:
1)    To what extent do children from disadvantaged backgrounds attain successful cognitive outcomes?
2)    What are the key enabling factors that distinguish successful children from disadvantaged backgrounds (the ‘resilient’) from their peers who attain less? And what is the interplay between the enabling factors analysed?
3)    Are there turning points in the life-course of disadvantaged children which enable them to achieve better outcomes than expected?

Place and punishment in Scotland: stability and change in the relationship between deprivation and imprisonment

Recent scholarship in the USA (Simes 2017) has identified the spatial context of imprisonment as an important issue.  Whilst criminologists have typically seen imprisonment as a response to urban inequality or urban social control, Simes has shown that imprisonment rates can also be high away from urban centres in smaller 'satellite' cities.
Using 2003 data for Scotland, Houchin (2005) identified Glasgow as an important site of both high deprivation and imprisonment, but since the early 2000s cities such as Glasgow have seen a 'sub-urbanization' of poverty (Minton and Bailey 2018), with increasing levels of deprivation away from city centres and towards the suburbs. This raises the question of whether the spatial relationship between imprisonment and deprivation in Scotland has also changed over this period. We aim to revisit and extend Houchin's analysis to explore change in the spatial context of imprisonment in Scotland. 

Our other areas of research

Illustration of the coronavirus in red on a black background


Mother and son holding hands


Car window smashed by car thief


People with hands raised in lecture


Workers in an open plan office


Industrial Chimneys with smoke raising


Students chatting in the library


chalk drawing of male and female on balance scales


New houses being built in a new development


Criminal with handcuffs behind back


Dad with two children walking hand in hand to the bus stop


Sad boy sitting on a bark bench