John Bingham, Telegraph (London), June 29, 2014
Decades of efforts to promote multiculturalism have gone into reverse, major new research showing teenagers are no more likely to mix with people from other racial backgrounds than those 40 years older suggests.
The study, which analyses the social lives of almost 4,300 people from 13 to 80, shows that a clear trend towards each successive generation becoming more integrated than the one before breaks down when it comes to under-18s.
Despite growing up in more diverse society than ever before at a time when mass migration has transformed the make-up of Britain, today’s teenagers have almost 30 per cent fewer friends from other ethnic backgrounds than people in their 20s and early 30s.
Overall the analysis, designed by experimental psychologists at Oxford University, found that the current generation of teenagers show similar levels of social segregation as middle aged people.
The surprise finding emerges from the first phase of research by the Social Integration Commission, a study backed by charities and business to examine the impact of increasing diversity in Britain.
It comes in the week that new figures from the Office for National Statistics showed that the UK has seen the fastest population growth in Europe over the last decade, gaining as many people in that time than in the entire previous generation.
The first report from the commission, due to be published later this week, will set how closely people of different classes and generations mix in modern Britain.
But initial results seen by The Sunday Telegraph highlight concerns about the level of integration along racial lines among the youngest age-group.
On average teenagers have only around half as many social interactions with people from other backgrounds as might be expected, given the area in which they live.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the Royal Society of Arts, who chaired the commission, said it raised “serious questions” about the ability of schools to properly integrate young people from different backgrounds who rub shoulders together in the corridors every day.
“This issue will not rectify itself, and requires urgent attention to promote better integration among young people when they are at a particularly formative moment in their development,” he said.
The conclusions were based on a sample of 4,269 people interviewed by Ipsos MORI. Each person was asked to describe recent social gatherings they had attended and asked to give details of who was present and their relationship to them.
Researchers then analysed the make-up of each person’s circle of friends and acquaintances and compared it with the profile of the area in which they lived. Each was then given a notional integration score, based on how closely their friendship circle matches the ethnic, age and class make-up of their neighbourhood.
Pensioners were the least integrated overall, while those aged 18 to 34 were the most, with an average of 65 per cent as many social interactions with people from different ethnic backgrounds as might be expected for where they lived if ethnicity was irrelevant.
By contrast those aged 17 and under had less than half (47 per cent) the number of social interactions outside their own background as might be expected.
Their average score was similar to those in the 35 to 54 age-group, 44 per cent.
“Today’s findings reveal a striking lack of mixing among the youngest in our society,” said Mr Taylor.
“This raises serious questions about the lack of integration in Britain’s education system, yet also suggests that certain institutions, such as higher education, have a positive effect on people’s propensity to mix.”
He said the aim of the study was not to support “social engineering” but find ways to “nudge” people to mix more closely.
The fact that those between the ages of 18 and 34 are significantly more integrated than other age groups suggests that universities and colleges offer a more natural way of mixing people than schools or other social settings.
“This isn’t a report about telling people off,” he said.
“Lots of research shows that it is perfectly natural for birds of a feather to flock together.
“But what we would also say is that because we believe integration is a good thing and because Britain is becoming more diverse by ethnicity, age, income and social class we need to look at what steps we might take to overcome that natural tendency.
“None of the commissioners is going to be advocating wholesale social engineering or naming and shaming people but we think that there are things that can be done, things which people would be happy to do which would just give them that little nudge.
“The fact that it looks like colleges and universities are places that encourage integration better than schools is an indication that maybe there are things that we could so.”
But he added that what is not clear is whether the lower levels of integration shown by the teenagers mean they will not mix more closely later in life. Only a further study in the future, tracking a sample of people over a longer period would establish that, he said.
The Commission was set up by The Challenge Network, a charity which runs the National Citizen Service.