UK becoming 'more local and global'
- 7 April 2014
- From the section UK
Many people in the UK feel a growing connection with others in their neighbourhood and the wider world, but shrinking ties with their own country.
The figures come from a survey for the BBC's Who Do We Think We Are? project, which asked if people felt more or less connected to others than a decade ago.
More people said neighbourhood ties and links with the global community were getting stronger rather than weaker.
But ties with others in the UK were getting weaker rather than stronger.
Roughly half the sample experienced no real change in their personal connections.
When comparing the proportion of those who think connections have got closer against those who think they've become less close, an intriguing picture emerges.
Of all those surveyed, 30% said they felt more connected to their neighbourhood, versus 24% who felt less connected - a 6% difference. A further 41% said they felt no difference, while the rest said they "didn't know".
With the global community, 11% more thought ties were closer than those who felt less close. However, 9% more people said connections with their own country were weakening, than those who thought they were strengthening.
The face-to-face survey of more than 2,500 people across all parts of the UK reveals significant regional differences. The sense of connection with others in one's country appears to be declining in every region and nation except one.
In Scotland, 4% more people said the connection has got stronger rather than weaker in the past 10 years. The prospect of a referendum on independence later this year may have had an impact on their sense of nationhood.
By contrast, among their neighbours in the North East of England, 22% more people said their connection with others in the country had become weaker than said it had got stronger.
When it comes to comparisons with a decade ago, the English regions with the highest proportion of people who feel closer to others in their neighbourhood are the West Midlands and the South West. Wales and North West England emerge as the regions with the highest proportion saying they felt less connected locally.
The people of Northern Ireland emerge as the most likely in the UK to say they identify with their city, town or village.
Ben Page, chief executive of Ipsos MORI, which carried out the poll, believes new technology may be the key to understanding what it is happening.
"People are interested in the local, they can connect with people locally - the internet allows them to do that," he says. "Perhaps people living 100 or 200 miles away in your own country are a little less interesting."
The social anthropologist Kate Fox agrees. "The human brain is wired to live in small close-knit tribal groups," she explains. "The dynamics of those groups is what we are able to recreate with new technology. We're recreating tribal social dynamics with Facebook, Twitter and Mumsnet."
Although 57% of people said they didn't think there had been any change in their connection to people in other countries around the world, it is notable that significantly more people appear to feel they are closer to the international community than say ties have weakened.
Once again, it may be the impact of new technology and global media that is strengthening our relationship with the wider world.
Only in Wales did a larger proportion say they felt less connected globally than more connected. Indeed, the Welsh results suggest people there feel more disconnected with others generally.
The survey also invited respondents to name the country outside the UK that had an outlook and values closest to their own. Do they share a similar view of life to people from a country in Europe, the United States, the Commonwealth or somewhere else?
Two countries were mentioned more than any others - Australia and the United States. Next, and tied in terms of mentions, were Germany and France. More than a third of people picked an EU country, while a quarter selected a Commonwealth state.
The UK region that selected Australia more than any other was Wales (14%) - perhaps the historic links and the shared involvement in farming may be explanations for that. The region where the greatest proportion of people said they didn't identify with any other country was the East of England (24%).
The survey asked respondents what aspect of their identity, other than job and family or friends, they would tell a stranger were most important. None of the top three answers would be found on a passport or ID card.
The aspect of identity picked by easily the largest proportion of people was "my interests and leisure activities". Next came "my values and outlook", closely followed by "my personal views and opinions".
What is striking about these answers is that none are aspects of identity that we are born with. Only 20% said their nationality was among the top three or four things they would tell a stranger was important about them. Only 10% said religion while 7% picked social class.
"We're not trapped by the class or place or background we were born into - or at least in terms with how we feel about ourselves," says Mr Page. "People are almost creating their own identities."
The human brain is wired to live in small close-knit tribal groups. We’re recreating tribal social dynamics with Facebook, Twitter and Mumsnet."
It is aspects of our identity that we have developed personally that seem most important to us. One in five people said their taste in music was an important part of who they were. Among men, a similar proportion said the sport they followed was central to their identity.
For one in nine men in the UK, it appears their passion for a particular team is a vital ingredient of identity. Although the numbers are not very large, for the record, the football club that received most mentions was Liverpool.
What emerges from this survey is a much more complex picture of people's sense of identity than often debated. Nationality is not as central to our sense of self as sometimes suggested. Ask people "Who do we think we are?' and the answer is as likely to be bird-watchers as Brits.
*Note on methodology: Ipsos MORI interviewed 2,571 UK adults aged over 15. Interviews were conducted face-to-face between 13-31 March 2014. Data are weighted to the profile of the population. Where net scores have been used they represent the difference between people saying they feel more connected, minus the people who say they feel less connected. The 11% figure for those who felt closer ties globally was calculated from 24% of all surveyed saying they felt more of a connection with other people in other countries around the world, versus 12% who felt less connected. The percentage figure was rounded. Some 57% said they felt no difference. The 9% figure who felt less of a connection with their own country was calculated from 16% of all surveyed saying they felt more of a connection with people in their own country, versus 25% who felt less connected. A further 54% said they felt no difference.
The margin of error on the overall UK results is plus or minus two percentage points, with a confidence level of 95%. Results for individual regions and nations have a margin of error between two and nine percentage points, depending on sample size.