26 March 2021
Geography and gender: Britons stand out for views on two types of inequality, while age divide splits opinions on race
The public are particularly concerned about one, less so about the other
Inequalities around the globe: what the world sees as most serious
Read the research
By international standards the British public are particularly concerned about geographical inequalities – but among the least likely to be worried about gender inequality, according to a new 28-country study.
The research, by the Policy Institute at King’s College London and Ipsos MORI, found 51% of Britons say inequalities between more and less deprived areas are one of the most serious types of inequality in the country – much higher than the European average of 39%, and above any other western European nation. Among this group of countries, Italy has the next-highest level of concern about this issue, on 42%, while only 22% in Germany think this is a serious form of inequality.
Aside from disparities in income and wealth (56%), other forms of inequality are seen as relatively less serious, with British opinion in line with that across Europe.
The major exception is gender inequality, which is viewed as a top concern by 33% of Europeans, compared with 23% of Britons.
Britain ranks among the lowest internationally for concern about gender inequality, alongside countries such as China (24%), Hungary (22%) and Saudi Arabia (19%), where relatively few people say disparities between men and women are one of the most serious forms of inequality. Globally, 36% of women say such inequalities are among the most concerning, compared with 26% of men.
According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index, in 2020 Britain was ranked highly, as the 21st most gender-equal country for its actual levels of equality between men and women.
It may therefore seem right for Britons to be less focused on gender inequality as a serious issue – but interestingly, other nations that do better according to this objective measure in fact have greater levels of concern about inequalities between men and women than those seen in Britain.
For example, 42% of people in Spain say it is one of the most serious forms of inequality in their country, despite the country ranking eighth in the world for gender equality. And 37% of Swedes say the same – even though their nation comes higher still, ranking fourth globally.
Overall, concern about gender inequality appears to be unrelated to a nation’s actual performance on this issue. For example, only 19% of people in Saudi Arabia see this as a particularly serious concern there, despite the country doing very poorly according to objective measures, ranked 146th globally for equality between men and women.
Inequalities between ethnic groups
36% of Britons see disparities between ethnic groups as one of the most concerning forms of inequality in the nation, placing Britain in the top half of countries surveyed for concern about this issue.
But there are big differences in views by age: 47% of under-35s say ethnic inequalities are among the most serious in Britain, compared with 34% of 35-49-year-olds and 29% of 50-74-year-olds.
This age divide in views among the British public is much larger than the global country average, with 34% of under-35s around the world citing ethnic disparities as a serious concern and 27% of both older age groups saying the same.
Looking beyond Britain, 55% of Americans consider ethnic inequalities to be among the most serious forms of inequality in the US – the highest of any developed country surveyed and lower only than South Africa, on 65%.
56% of people in Britain think disparities in income are a particularly serious form of inequality in their country, making it one of the nation’s least concerned about this issue.
But concern in Britain is in line with the European average (57%), and is similar to other western countries, such as Spain (56%), the US (57%) and Germany (59%).
Even though it is considered the worst country for income equality by the World Bank, which ranks it at 165th globally, 62% of people in South Africa are particularly concerned about disparities in incomes there, which barely exceeds the global average of 60%.
By contrast, Belgium does much better according to objective measures, coming 10th for income equality globally, yet concern is relatively high there, with 69% seeing it as a serious issue – significantly higher than the European average.
Professor Bobby Duffy, Director of the Policy Institute at King’s College London, said:
“The level of concern about inequalities between areas in Britain is unusually high – other European countries are much less likely to be concerned. It seems then that the government’s focus on the ‘levelling up’ agenda has struck a chord with the British public. But people are likely to have a variety of things in mind when they pick this out as a concern – from the north-south divide, to very local ‘left behind’ communities – and we need to reflect this in the policy response.
“In contrast, we’re much less likely to pick out inequality between men and women as a serious problem compared with other countries. This may seem justified, as Britain does fairly well on international indices of actual gender inequality. But it also seems likely that this may be complacency, as other countries that rank even higher on objective measures of gender equality are still more concerned than Britain.”
Kully Kaur-Ballagan, Research Director at Ipsos MORI, said:
“Spontaneous concern about inequality has been gradually increasing over the last decade in Ipsos MORI’s Issues Index and these concerns are highlighted here. Britons are much more concerned about inequality between racial and ethnic groups than the average across the 28 countries and more so than many of their European neighbours. Britons are also among the most concerned about inequalities between people living in more and less deprived areas. The Covid-19 crisis has further revealed – and exacerbated – a range of inequalities. The recovery from the pandemic must address these issues front and centre, given levels of concern about the here in the UK.”