Using geodemographics to learn about people in an area.

How much can society change in 10 years?

Exploring change over time using geodemographic data.

The census takes place every 10 years within the UK and provides a powerful tool for national trend analysis. It offers several major advantages as a data tool as it is compulsory, so every UK resident is legally obliged to answer, whilst the range of questions it puts forward are very comprehensive. We are very fortunate to have such a data source, as not every country conducts similar national surveys – a limitation guaranteed to frustrate anyone looking at global social analysis. (We have a separate blog on the census if you’d like to learn more.) The census is central to our own geodemographic profiling data, P² People & Places, allowing us to take full advantage of the data collected by the Office of National Statistics (ONS).

Despite the depth of questioning, the census alone lacks the depth of economic data to give a well-rounded picture of consumers. As such it is important to supplement this data in order to add further depth. To do this, we use data from the Living Costs and Food Survey (LCF) and British Population Survey (BPS) to paint better pictures of each demographic group. The result is a set of geodemographic data that gives us a good overview of major demographic groupings and trends across the UK. The next census isn’t due to take place until 2021 and it will take some time after that until the findings and data are processed and released, so we thought it was a good time to take stock of some of the changes and trends we noticed between the 2001 and the 2011 census. What difference does 10 years make to our society and the people that live within it?

Not everything has changed

In the 10 years between each census, the detail and data discrimination in our profiling tools has increased greatly, but general social trends remain clear.

  • Top level demographic groups tend to live in owned detached houses. They have multiple cars and drive to professional and managerial posts. These people tend to read broadsheet newspapers and shop in Sainsbury’s or Marks and Spencer.
  • The average person lives in a semi-detached house, commuting by car to white collar work in the service industry. These people will read Black Top tabloids and shop in Tesco.
  • Bottom level groups live in rented flats. They do not have a car and are probably pensioners. If they are working, it will be blue collar manual work. These people read Red Top tabloids and shop in Asda or Lidl.

Some of us are getting richer

The average annual income was £25,000 in 2001. By 2011 this had risen to £32,000. People are earning more. Income increasing over a 10 year period is hardly surprising. The distribution of that income has changed dramatically.

In 2001 the richest demographic groups were just under twice as likely to have an income higher than the average. The poorest groups were half as likely to receive the average income. By 2011 the richest households were much more than twice as likely to earn above the average income. Poorer households were still only half as likely to earn the average.

The range of incomes also widened. Some lower income households were earning less than a third of the average wage while the upper echelons could receive over three times the average.

Back in 2001, the world was young with the more affluent groups averaging 35 years of age with average numbers of children. Meanwhile the least affluent groups were more likely to be over 65 with low numbers of children. This has shown a natural progression with the average for each group ageing 10 years by 2011.

Social mobility – towards the middle

In 2001, the four largest groups made up around 50% of the population and reflected the more traditional class stereotypes. By 2011 60% of the population fell into the four middle class groupings of our profiling data. So in the course of just 10 years we have seen a growth of the middle class whilst both high-earning and low-earning groups have become more extreme in their affluence or lack thereof.

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What will the next census show?

The real question is, with 3 years until the next census, and probably a further year or two until the data is processed and released, what changes can we expect? So much has changed in the last 10 years, it is difficult to predict with any certainty. Certainly the way we describe each social group will have to change:

  • Classifying people by the newspapers they read seems anachronistic with the decline in the readership of print publications.
  • Environmental concerns and the impact of technology such as ride hailing apps are starting to impact car ownership outside of the usual location and affluence influencers.
  • Shoppers are no longer limited by their local store, with home delivery becoming so prevalent.

The census itself will also change; The Office of National Statistics put great effort into the design of each census to ensure that a core of consistent questions remain as points of comparison, whilst new questions are introduced to allow for changes in society and the participant’s way of life.

More fundamentally, technology is allowing new working patterns to emerge that will challenge old profiles; for example home working and digital microbusiness mean that location is a smaller influence on working pattern, whilst a young family needn’t impact household income as much as it once did. It will be fascinating to see the impact that these changes have made to our societal make-up.

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