Maps

Class-Divided Cities: London Edition

There are deep divisions in one of the world's most powerful global cities.

Image
Petar Paunchev/Shutterstock.com

Social class has become an inescapable presence in American cities. Here on Cities, this past winter and spring, I examined the geography of class in America's twelve largest metros. Today, I turn my attention globally to the class geography of London.

London today stands alongside New York as one of the world's two most powerful global cities. In his sweeping analysis of the rise and fall of great financial centers, Capitals of CapitalYoussef Cassis notes London's remarkable comeback as a world-leading financial center over the past the several decades, even in the wake of the U.K.'s long-run economic decline. Today, it is one of the largest centers of the world's super-rich, and regularly nears the top of lists ranking influence or economic power. New investments have turned East London's Tech City into a center of start-up and venture capital activity. It has become one of the most expensive places to live on the planet. And as has happened in so many cities, from New York to San Francisco, its urban economic renewal has brought with it deep economic divides. 

The map above, by Zara Matheson of the Martin Prosperity Institute (MPI), charts the class geography for metropolitan London. It plots the location, by neighborhood, of the three major socio-economic classes — the declining working class, the rising creative class of knowledge, professional, technical and culture workers, and the even larger service class of low-wage, lower-skill workers in routine service jobs. In keeping with our previous class geography maps, purple shows neighborhoods that are made up of more than 50 percent creative class residents; red indicates neighborhoods that are majority service class; and blue indicates neighborhoods that are primarily working class. The data, which are for 2011, reflect London's Lower Level Super Output Areas (or LSOAs), which are roughly comparable to U.S. census tracts. The data were supplied to us by the U.K.'s Office for National Statistics for the year 2011 (see this MPI report on the geography of class and education in London). 

The center of London is overwhelmingly creative class purple. Surrounding it is a sea of service class red. 

London's creative class totals 1.7 million workers, comprising 41.6 percent of its workforce. This level is in line with San Francisco (39.4 percent), Washington, D.C (a relatively high 46.8 percent), and Boston (41.6 percent), and considerably higher than New York (35.8 percent), Chicago (35.1 percent), or Los Angeles (34.1 percent).  

Across London, the creative class accounts for more than half of all residents in 27.4 percent of neighborhoods (LSOAs) and more than two-thirds of residents in 6.7 percent of London's neighborhoods.

London's creative class is highly concentrated in and around the city center. The darkest areas of purple, where the creative class makes up roughly 80 percent of residents, are in and around the core, including Kensington, Chelsea, the City of London and Camden (Parliament Hill). These areas are interspersed with areas of lighter purple where the creative class makes up roughly 50 to 60 percent of residents. The areas of highest creative class concentration (the darkest purple areas on the map) radiate north and west from the center. Dark purple gradually fades to light purple with distance from the center.

The service class, the red areas on the map, is pushed out to the city's periphery, and is arrayed in three large areas to the northwest, northeast and south of the city. The service class is London's largest class, numbering 1.9 million residents and comprising 46.5 percent of the city's workforce. The service class is also highly concentrated and clustered, making up more than half of all residents in nearly two-thirds (64.1 percent) of London neighborhoods (LSOAs). That said, there are fewer neighborhoods where the service class makes up more than two-thirds of residents (0.7 percent) compared to the creative class (6.7 percent).

Strikingly, there is not a single blue area — that is, a neighborhood where the working class makes up a majority of residents — on the map. The working class makes up just 11.6 percent of London's workforce (as percent of employed residents, 16-74). What's more, the working class makes up 30 percent or more of residents in an infinitesimal 0.12 percent of neighborhoods. Conversely, the working class makes up less than 10 percent of residents in a whopping 40 percent of areas. This is staggering in a city where Karl Marx spent the last decades of his life writing Das Kapital.

The second map, above, plots the geography of advanced educational attainment for London. It charts the conventional definition of so-called high-skill human capital, measuring the percentage of adults with a bachelor's, master's or Ph.D. degree, referred to as "Level 4 qualification" in the U.K. Overall, London is also a very highly educated city, with roughly 38 percent of its population holding a bachelor's, master's or Ph.D. Dark blue represents areas where greater than 47.5 percent of adults hold a bachelor's degree or higher; light blue shows areas where the proportion ranges between 34.6 and 47.5 percent; green represents 25.9 to 34.5 percent; and yellow shows areas where those with bachelor's degree or higher represent less than 25.8 percent of the adult population.

The areas with the highest levels of educational attainment (the darkest blue areas) again radiate of from the center of the city. Generally speaking the map turns to light blue, then green, then yellow as one goes from center to peripheral areas. 

The third map, above, puts the two together, showing the share of the two major classes — the creative class and the service class who hold a bachelor's degree or more. The fourth map, below, is interactive: Click on a neighborhood for its class and educational breakdown.

These maps show the strong concentration of the highly educated creative class in the center of the city, radiating out north and west. They also show a substantial pocket of service class workers right below the river Thames in the borough of Bexley. But in the main the service class, especially the least educated segments of the service class (light pink on the map) are pushed to the far edges of the city.
 
This pattern is similar to a map of London gentrification published earlier this fall in The Economist. Neighborhoods in central London are becoming richer and more expensive, with a population that is more educated and more likely to hold jobs in the creative class. In line with the trend that Alan Ehrenhalt has dubbed the "great inversion," The Economist article notes, the poorer, service class workers have been pushed to the more suburban outskirts of the city.
 

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London is the archetypal example of a class-divided city, shaped by massive influxes of capital from around the world as it has become a, if not the, destination of choice for the global super-rich. Central London has become increasingly unaffordable, pushing service class residents to the outskirts of the region. Writing in The Economist this summer, Ryan Avent dubbed it a "parasitic city," where greedy property owners siphon off a huge share of economic gains. It is also a fully post-industrial city. Its working class has shrunk to just slightly more than one in ten workers. The city's two dominant classes today are nearly equal in size: the high-skilled, highly paid creative class, and the slightly larger low-skilled, low paid service class. As a result, it's class composition looks more like that of Washington, D.C. or San Francisco than New York. 

Writing in the Financial Times in the wake of the London riots two summers ago, I noted that: "More than youth, ethnicity or even race, London’s riots are about class and the growing divide between the classes." And I added that "this is a tale of two great immigrations. On the one hand, the great global metropolises are magnets for the international super-rich on the lookout for tax shelters and shopping opportunities. On the other are less-skilled immigrants, hungry for better lives. In between are often caught local populations, left behind by fast-moving economic change." London's class geography signals the need for a new urban social compact that can fully harness the talents and hard work of all residents. If not, the London of the 2011 riots could be the best example the world has of what is to come.

Top image: Petar Paunchev/Shutterstock.com

About the Author

  • Richard Florida is Co-founder and Editor at Large of CityLab.com and Senior Editor at The Atlantic. He is director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto and Global Research Professor at NYU. More
    Florida is author of The Rise of the Creative ClassWho's Your City?, and The Great Reset. He's also the founder of the Creative Class Group, and a list of his current clients can be found here