Human Geography of the UK


Danny Dorling

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    For Alison Rachel Dorling

    List of Figures and Tables

    • Figure 1.1 The constituencies which never were 3
    • Figure 1.2 A flat view of the constituencies which never were 5
    • Figure 1.3 How many people were aged 18 in 2000? 6
    • Figure 1.4 Proportion aged 18 in 2000 7
    • Figure 1.5 Who got to go to university (% of 18 year olds in 2000)? 8
    • Figure 1.6 Educational participation rates at age 18 in Western Europe 11
    • Figure 1.7 People under 21 attending university by social class (%) 12
    • Figure 1.8 Difference between observed and expected university entry rates allowing for the geography of children's social class 15
    • Figure 2.1 Number of live births in Britain, 1900–2000 20
    • Figure 2.2 Proportion of live births that were female in Britain, 1900–2000 21
    • Figure 2.3 Students in the UK, cohort size and proportions, 1970–2000 22
    • Figure 2.4 Participation in higher education by social class, 2000 23
    • Figure 2.5 Where 18 year olds moved from birth to 2000 24
    • Figure 2.6 Net migration to age 18 (1982–2000) by GCSEs at age 15/16 26
    • Figure 2.7 In-migration of children as a proportion of out-migration 26
    • Figure 2.8 Babies born to teenagers in Britain, 1991–98 27
    • Figure 2.9 Babies born to teenagers and university entry rates by area 28
    • Figure 2.10 Babies born to mothers aged 35 or over, 1991–98 29
    • Figure 3.1 Children doing well at age 11, per child doing poorly, 1998 34
    • Figure 3.2 Children achieving no qualifications by age 15/16, 1993–99 35
    • Figure 3.3 Children achieving few qualifications by age 15/16, 1993–99 37
    • Figure 3.4 Children achieving low qualifications by age 15/16, 1993–99 38
    • Figure 3.5 Children aged 15/16 1993–99 by school type and GCSEs 39
    • Figure 3.6 Children attending private schools 1993–99 at age 15 40
    • Figure 3.7 Annual decline in children given low qualifications, 1993–99 41
    • Figure 3.8 Students aged 16+ in education in 2001 (numbers) 42
    • Figure 3.9 University graduates aged 21+ in 2001 43
    • Figure 3.10 Change in area share of graduates aged 21 +, 1971–2001 44
    • Figure 4.1 Women and men and the sexing of places in Britain 49
    • Figure 4.2 Age and the ageing of place in Britain 51
    • Figure 4.3 Ethnicity and the colour of place in Britain 2001 52
    • Figure 4.4 Religion and the spirituality of place in Britain 53
    • Figure 4.5 Single, married, divorced, remarried and widowed in Britain 54
    • Figure 4.6 Through the keyhole – household composition in Britain 55
    • Figure 4.7 Migration in England and Wales, 2000–01 56
    • Figure 4.8 Lifetime and annual immigration to Britain by 2001 57
    • Figure 4.9 Highest level of qualification gained by people in Britain 58
    • Figure 4.10 Social class as defined largely by occupation in 2001 59
    • Figure 5.1 Labour candidates elected as MPs in 2001 in Britain (%) 66
    • Figure 5.2 Proportion of electorate voting Labour in 2001 in Britain 68
    • Figure 5.3 Labour votes (ratio) per Labour MP elected in 2001 in Britain 69
    • Figure 5.4 Change in bias towards Labour, 1997–2001 70
    • Figure 5.5 Proportion of the electorate abstaining in 2001 in Britain 71
    • Figure 5.6 Increase in the electorate abstaining in 1997–2001 in Britain 72
    • Figure 5.7 Voting Labour in 1997 versus low qualifications, 1993–99 73
    • Figure 5.8 MPs in 2001 educated in non-selective state schools 74
    • Figure 5.9 Proportion of voters not having their wish honoured, 2001 75
    • Figure 5.10 Proportion of voters not represented had PR been used in 2001 76
    • Figure 6.1 Barclays' customers earning over £60,000 a year in 2002 (%) 87
    • Figure 6.2 Barclays' customers' average annual earnings in 2003 (£s) 88
    • Figure 6.3 Barclays' customers' adjusted annual earnings in 2003 (£s) 89
    • Figure 6.4 People living below half average income in Britain, 2000 (%) 90
    • Figure 6.5 High, low and average earnings in Britain around 2001 91
    • Figure 6.6 Levels of poverty in Britain by UN definitions, 2000 92
    • Figure 6.7 Proportion of adults who are functionally illiterate in Britain 93
    • Figure 6.8 Proportion of the population dying by age 60 in Britain 94
    • Figure 6.9 Rates of illiteracy and people living below half average incomes 95
    • Figure 6.10 Rates of death and people living below half average incomes 96
    • Figure 7.1 All-cause mortality ratios in Britain, 1996–2000 104
    • Figure 7.2 Tuberculosis mortality ratios in Britain, 1996–2000 105
    • Figure 7.3 HIV mortality ratios in Britain, 1996–2000 106
    • Figure 7.4 Lung cancer mortality ratios in Britain, 1996–2000 107
    • Figure 7.5 Skin cancer mortality ratios in Britain, 1996–2000 108
    • Figure 7.6 Cervical cancer mortality ratios in Britain, 1996–2000 109
    • Figure 7.7 Heart attack mortality ratios in Britain, 1996–2000 110
    • Figure 7.8 Mortality ratios of deaths from strokes in Britain, 1996–2000 111
    • Figure 7.9 Mortality ratios of deaths caused by fire in Britain, 1996–2000 112
    • Figure 7.10 Mortality ratios of suicide by hanging in Britain, 1996–2000 113
    • Figure 8.1 Employment in manufacturing in the UK, 1991–2000 125
    • Figure 8.2 Employment in finance in the UK, 1991–2001 126
    • Figure 8.3 Employment in elementary occupations in the UK, 1991–2001 128
    • Figure 8.4 Employment in professional occupations in the UK, 1991–2001 129
    • Figure 8.5 People employed to work full-time in the UK, 1991–2001 130
    • Figure 8.6 People who are permanently sick in the UK, 1991–2001 131
    • Figure 8.7 People who are not unemployed in the UK, 1991–2001 132
    • Figure 8.8 Lone parents not in work in the UK, 1991–2001 133
    • Figure 8.9 Two parents both working in the UK, 1991–2001 134
    • Figure 8.10 Adults with a long-term illness in the UK, 1991–2001 135
    • Figure 9.1 Population density in Britain, 2001 142
    • Figure 9.2 Population potential in Britain, 2001 143
    • Figure 9.3 Change in population potential in Britain, 1991–2001 144
    • Figure 9.4 Change in the proportion of people living in flats, 1991–2001 146
    • Figure 9.5 People by dominant economic activity in Britain, 2001 147
    • Figure 9.6 Tenure of households in Britain, 2001 148
    • Figure 9.7 Households with seven or more rooms in Britain, 2001 149
    • Figure 9.8 Households with three or more cars in Britain, 2001 150
    • Figure 9.9 The landscape of unpaid care for the ill in Britain, 2001 151
    • Figure 9.10 Institutional care in old age and illness in Britain, 2001 152
    • Figure 10.1 A different view of the world – its children in 2001 160
    • Figure 10.2 Severe water deprivation for children in the world by 2000 161
    • Figure 10.3 Severe sanitation deprivation for children in the world, 2000 162
    • Figure 10.4 Severe shelter deprivation for children in the world, 2000 163
    • Figure 10.5 Severe information deprivation for children in the world, 2000 164
    • Figure 10.6 Severe educational deprivation for children in the world, 2000 165
    • Figure 10.7 Severe food deprivation for children in the world, 2000 167
    • Figure 10.8 Severe health care deprivation for children in the world, 2000 168
    • Figure 10.9 Severe overall deprivation for children in the world, 2000 169
    • Figure 10.10 Absolute overall deprivation for children in the world, 2000 170
    • Figure 10.11 Example: regional cartogram of the children of the UK 172
    • Table 1.1 Areas that never existed – UK European constituencies, 1999 4
    • Table 1.2 The two extreme European constituencies compared 9
    • Table 1.3 Children by social class and predicted university entry rates 13
    • Table 5.1 Number of votes and the electorate (thousands), 2001 by Government Office Region 78
    • Table 5.2 Number of votes and the electorate (thousands), 2001 by European constituency 79
    • Table 7.1 One hundred major causes of death in England and Wales, 1996–2000 115


    This book has been written for students at university studying at the start of the twenty-first century, assumed to be living in, or interested in the United Kingdom. A social geography and landscape of the country is presented here in a way which is unusual in contemporary teaching.

    First, this book contains many maps. Maps fell out of fashion many years ago in the study of human geography. However, the maps in this book are a little different from those which were discarded in the past. Although they initially appear to be showing a crude landscape of the country, the shape and heights of areas on the maps show a social rather than physical landscape. Areas are drawn as mountainous where few children go to university or as lowland valleys where children are most likely to go on to undertake university studies. They are also drawn in size in proportion to the numbers of people being depicted. This, after all, is a book about a human geography of the UK.

    Secondly, this book uses quantitative evidence. Contemporary statistics from numerous sources have been used to draw the maps and figures shown here. Usually this has required a little analysis of official statistics and in some cases of raw data. In all cases sources and methods are given, in many cases in sufficient detail so that a student can replicate these illustrations through simply having access to the Internet. Just as with mapping, the use of numbers is not currently in vogue in human geography. However, with a little care it is possible to present such evidence in a way which is clear and which reveals many aspects of the underlying geographical structure of society in the UK.

    Thirdly, this book is not written as an objective account, although in places it may appear to read that way and the use of maps, figures and quantitative evidence can give that impression. Instead, the book is a story of some of the aspects of life in the UK which are most influenced by people's geographies and a story which begins with ways of imagining the country, childhood and education. It is a story about things which interest me and which I think affect most people, thus geographies of identity, ideology and inequality appear at the heart of the book. It progresses by connecting the geographies of inequality, mortality, work and settlement to these, and ends where it began with a view of children's lives, but of how the children of the UK fit within a global picture of human geography. This is a necessarily partial, parochial, and particular story of the human geography of a country.

    All books of the people of a country are written from very personal viewpoints, sometimes all that differs are the extents to which authors admit to that. This book thus has a huge number of omissions. Those which I most regret are the absence of how power and privilege combine in the UK; there are no accounts of individuals' lives and how they are played out on the landscape being drawn; there are no pictures of people or the places in which they live; and a glaring omission of information on Northern Ireland in all chapters save the eighth. If I were starting this project again those are some of the things I would try to do differently.

    What this book does hopefully achieve is, at the very least, a description of the country which has not been presented in this way before. A description painted from numbers collected to record key moments in people's lives: their births, movements, literacy, exam results, how they are labelled by the state, how their voices are counted within its democracy, their incomes, expenditures, work, caring, deaths, homes and how these look in a very narrow global context (worldwide childhood poverty). The text accompanying these descriptions suggests something of the processes that have created these images. Many of the processes should be obvious to the people reading this book as they influence their daily lives; they may just be described a little differently here.

    For anyone using this book in teaching about the UK, the figures have hopefully been made simple enough to use as illustrations. At the end of each chapter a possible activity is described whereby students can themselves carry out an exercise which illustrates part of what is being suggested in the chapter. Just as you often learn far more by looking at source data than by reading other people's summaries of it, so too it is better to play out what is being described rather than simply listen to such a description in a lecture. These are all exercises I have used in teaching students at ages 16 to 20, from between 12 and 270 in a group. It should not be difficult to interest students in the human geography of a country, especially if they form a part of that geography, but somehow we often manage to turn what should be the most interesting and directly relevant of subjects into an academic exercise in passing exams.

    The human geography of the UK is not only of interest to those whose bodies help make it up and can expect to play out most of the remainder of their lives in it. This is a very rich country, as is made abundantly evident in the final chapter of the book. The key question to ask throughout this book is why, given the resources that we have, do we organise ourselves across the country in this way? Why do we have children where we do at the ages that we do? Why do we sort children out both through space and education as shown here? Why do we label people as we do? Why are most of their votes wasted (if they use them)? Why do so many live in poverty? Why can so many not read and write in such a rich country? Why do we tolerate inequalities in illness and death which are so clear to see on a map? Why have we allowed our successful industries to continue to become as geographically concentrated as they have? And why are we following those industries so that many of us are squeezed into very little space while others watch their areas empty out? Before you can ask why, you need to know what has happened, to whom, when, and where. You need to see the human geography before trying to understand it.


    All faults in the approach, text, figures and statistics presented in this book lie with me. I am most grateful to Graham Allsopp for agreeing to undertake the cartographic work needed to produce the maps shown here which was well beyond my abilities. In this he was assisted by Paul Coles, cartographer at the University of Sheffield, to whom thanks are also due.

    Jan Rigby, David Dorling and Dimitris Ballas commented on various drafts of the manuscript, helped turn my elementary English into something a little more readable and to tone down my most bizarre suggestions. I am particularly grateful to Jan for her ability to spot a great many numerous inadvertent double entendres and faux pas. Any remaining are obviously ones she enjoyed too much to bring to my attention.

    Robert Rojek, David Mainwaring and Vanessa Harwood of Sage Publications were all extremely patient in waiting for the manuscript and persevered with remarkable good humour in coaxing it out of me over a two-and-half-year period of my broken promises. The idea for a book of this kind should also be accredited to Robert, who may well wish he'd picked an author who then had not chosen to move work and home yet again, and become a father of two children over the course of this project!

    I am grateful to my colleagues at the Universities of Bristol, Leeds and Sheffield for their support when I first and later taught on some of the subjects in these pages; to many of the geography students of those institutions in recent years who kindly endured my experiments in trying to learn how to become a lecturer; and to friends at many conferences and meetings over the last few years who commented on many of the ideas and images that have now found their way into these pages.

    Finally I must express my gratitude to the various companies who took over upon the privatisation of British Rail. The excellent way in which they have run the train network of the country since then was largely responsible for giving me the often unplanned time to contemplate what kind of human geography made up this country. In recent years that contemplative service improved greatly. After all, what else is there to think about when staring out of a window wondering exactly where you are, who lives in those houses, how they ended up living there, what they do, and when you might be moving again.

    Danny Dorling, somewhere near Trent Junction
  • Appendix: The Places Mapped in This Book

    This appendix defines each European constituency used in this book in terms of the (approximate) local authority areas which it includes and the (exact) Westminster constituencies included as their boundaries existed around 2001.

    Note: LA = local authority, LB = London borough, UA = unitary authority, MB = metropolitan borough, CA = council area

    Key to the Human Geography of the UK

    • London Central
    • London East
    • London North
    • London North East
    • London North West
    • London South & Surrey East
    • London South East
    • London South Inner
    • London South West
    • London West
    • Buckinghamshire & Oxfordshire East
    • East Sussex & Kent South
    • Hampshire North & Oxford
    • Kent East
    • Kent West
    • South Downs West
    • Surrey
    • Sussex West
    • Thames Valley
    • Wight & Hampshire South
    • Bristol
    • Cornwall & West Plymouth
    • Devon & East Plymouth
    • Dorset & East Devon
    • Gloucestershire
    • Itchen, Test & Avon
    • Somerset & North Devon
    • Wiltshire North & Bath
    • Bedfordshire & Milton Keynes
    • Cambridgeshire
    • Essex North & Suffolk South
    • Essex South
    • Essex West & Hertfordshire East
    • Hertfordshire
    • Norfolk
    • Suffolk & South West Norfolk
    • Birmingham East
    • Birmingham West
    • Coventry & North Warwickshire
    • Herefordshire & Shropshire
    • Midlands West
    • Staffordshire East & Derby
    • Staffordshire West & Congleton
    • Worcestershire & South Warwickshire
    • Leicester
    • Lincolnshire
    • Northamptonshire & Blaby
    • Nottingham & Leicestershire North West
    • Nottinghamshire North & Chesterfield
    • Peak District
    • Cheshire East
    • Cheshire West & Wirral
    • Cumbria & Lancashire North
    • Greater Manchester Central
    • Greater Manchester East
    • Greater Manchester West
    • Lancashire Central
    • Lancashire South
    • Merseyside East & Wigan
    • Merseyside West
    • East Yorkshire & North Lincolnshire
    • Leeds
    • North Yorkshire
    • Sheffield
    • Yorkshire South
    • Yorkshire South West
    • Yorkshire West
    • Cleveland & Richmond
    • Durham
    • Northumbria
    • Tyne & Wear
    • Mid & West Wales
    • North Wales
    • South Wales Central
    • South Wales East
    • South Wales West
    • Central Scotland
    • Glasgow
    • Highlands & Islands
    • Lothian
    • Mid Scotland & Fife
    • North East Scotland
    • South of Scotland
    • West of Scotland
    • Northen Ireland (3 seats)

    Brief Reference List

    This book was written for students at university studying at the start of the twenty-first century, assumed to be living in, or interested in the United Kingdom. Given this audience it is assumed that they are largely computer literate and could search for sources or further information on the world wide web. It was also assumed that they would not welcome the insertion in this text of numerous references to printed works, many of which could only be found in a few university libraries. The main sources that were used in writing this book and drawing the maps shown here were:

    The population censuses of 1981, 1991 and 2001 (
    The House of Commons Library web pages (in particular for the definitions of the areas mapped:
    The neighbourhood statistics website of the Office for National Statistics (
    The General Register Office for Scotland website (
    Results published from the Youth Cohort Study of England and Wales (
    Publications of the Higher Education Council for England (in particular
    Seymour, J. (ed.), 2001, Poverty in Plenty: A Human Development Report for the UK, Earthscan Publications Limited, London, ISBN 1 85383 707 5 (
    Work on worldwide trends published by The Townsend Centre for International Poverty Research at the University of Bristol ( in association with UNICEF ( special issues.html): Gordon, D., et al., ‘The Distribution of Child Poverty in the Developing World: Report to UNICEF’, Centre for International Poverty Research, University of Bristol, Bristol, 2003.
    For further information type ‘human geography of the UK’ into the search box of google ( At the time of writing over one million web pages were linked to this phrase, ordered roughly by relevance to the subject. Don't be put off by how much is written about the UK – it remains a small island!
    All web links were valid as of July 2004

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