By John Bingham, Social Affairs Editor, The UK Telegraph Newspaper, 07 Dec 2014
Churches and sporting events as the last bastions of neighbourliness and integration in Britain (Picture: Alamy)
Places of worship and sporting events lead the way as places modern Britons are most likely to mix with people of other races, classes and generations
They teach that people should love their neighbour but a major new study shows that churches are one of the few places most modern Britons might even meet them.
Ground-breaking new analysis of the friendship networks of almost 4,300 people aged from 13 to 80 has identified churches and sporting events as the last bastions of neighbourliness and integration in Britain.
Overall, it found that churches and other places of worship are more successful than any other social setting at bringing people of different backgrounds together, well ahead of gatherings such as parties, meetings, weddings or venues such as pubs and clubs.
But while places of worship proved most potent at mixing people from different social classes and races, spectator sports events were the most successful at bringing people of different ages together.
The conclusions emerge from new findings, seen by the Sunday Telegraph, from the Social Integration Commission, a unique social experiment which has attempted to map thousands of people’s social networks to determine how closely people of different classes and generations mix in modern Britain.
Initial findings published earlier this year analysed how closely different groups of people mixed.
They raised questions about whether decades of efforts to promote multiculturalism have gone into reverse, by showing teenagers are no more likely to meet people from other racial backgrounds in a social setting than those 40 years older suggests.
The study also suggested that class could be a more enduring source of division than race in the UK.
The latest findings analyse how or where people of different backgrounds meet.
Matthew Taylor, Chair of the Social Integration Commission, said:
“Institutions play a huge role in determining how and with whom we interact. Our research shows that, perhaps contrary to perceived wisdom, activities such as attending a place of worship or a sporting event can bring people from all sorts of backgrounds together.
“These institutions could play a leading role in promoting social integration. Sporting and religious bodies should explore what more they can do to help build a better integrated society.”
Using a technique developed by experimental psychologists at Oxford University, statisticians analysed information provided by a sample of 4,269 people about their own social lives.
Each person was interviewed by Ipsos MORI and asked to describe recent social gatherings they had attended and give detail about who else was there and how they knew them to build up a subjective picture of their friendship circles.
Statisticians then analysed the lists and compared them with the profile of the area in which they lived based on findings from the census to give each person a notional score, depending on how closely their networks matched the profile of their neighbourhood. The same process was then applied to different types of gatherings people attended.
The different settings were most successful at bringing people of different generations together. Sporting events led the way with an integration score of 59 per cent on this measure, just ahead of places of worship on 57 per cent. The other settings scored around 46 per cent for bringing generations together.
On ethnic lines, churches were given an integration score of 25 per cent – twice the average level and far ahead of sporting events which averaged just over seven per cent on the racial mixing measure.
Similarly on social background, churches led the way with a score of 27 per cent, well ahead of the average of 18 per cent.
A spokesman for the Church of England said: “There are no bars of entry into the family of faith.
“This heartening research reflects the reality of church life across the nation with people from all ages, races and backgrounds united by their faith into a wider welcoming family.”