City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Study Says Edinburgh Is Loneliest Place in Britain


By edg - Posted on 03 December 2008

Edinburgh Castle and Old Town from Holyrood Park

According to a new study by the BBC and Sheffield University, Edinburgh is the loneliest place to live in the UK. In "Changing UK: the Way We Live Now" researchers compiled and rated areas across Britain using official statistical data from the Census to show how Britons are more demographically segregated "than at any time since the computerisation of census data (1966)."

The comprehensive study noted: "The country has polarised economically between areas since 1981,
become more socially fragmented since 1971, and geographical divisions
in political disaffection are currently at their highest."

Among its more specific conclusions, it reveals that Scots "are 17% more likely to die in any given year, month, week, or day than the average Briton" (for Glaswegians the mortality ratio is 31%) and a third of Scots are breadline poor.

The researchers also concluded after studying the 2001 Census data that of 45 BBC radio station areas, Edinburgh was the loneliest place to live in Britain.

How do you measure happiness?

You can't, because happiness is subjective. However, that's never stopped people trying. The researchers used a formulae to measure anomie, the sociological term to describe the feeling of "not belonging" that comes from socio-economic segregation and polarisation.

The formulae* takes into account numbers of non-married adults, 1-person households, number of people who have moved to their new address within the last year, and people renting privately. Edinburgh scored highest for these conditions with a score in 2001 of 33.1% versus Stoke, the area with the lowest anomie rating of 22.4%.

The study offered a snapshot of how areas of the UK have changed over the the last four decades. Reflecting a countrywide trend, Edinburgh's anomie rating started rising in the Eighties when it was around 20.3% at the beginning of the decade. By 1991 we were apparently feeling more isolated and lonely with the anomie index up to 26.3% and then in the ensuing decade it seems the sense of anomie took deep root as it hit 33.1%.

Edinburgh has its lovely architecture and heritage, a huge student population, and, being the second most visited city in Britain after London, a distinctly cosmopolitan vibe. At the time of the 2001 Census, it also had a thriving financial industry and the Scottish legal system is centred in the capital.

Ironically, the factors that have helped place Edinburgh highly in quality of life surveys in the past, serve here to increase its anomie rating, including its young, transient population and the highest property prices in Scotland.

Holyrood loneliest place of all

At the heart of the "loneliest city" the report found, when looking at smaller areas, that the loneliest place in Britain at the time of the 2001 Census was in the heart of the Old Town - Holyrood.

Of Holyrood's 22678 population, the researchers found that 17543 were unmarried adults, 4,938 lived in 1-person households, 15,469 had a different address one year ago, and 10050 were private renters, giving it an anomie rating* of 19645.46 or 86.63%.

The year of the census was a period of transition in that part of Edinburgh. Scotland was two years into Devolution and MSPs were still waiting to get into the unfinished Scottish Parliament building which had gone massively over-budget.

But it wasn't an army of bedsitting politicians in those numbers: Holyrood, famous for its Palace and historic Royal Mile, was still one of the poorest of Edinburgh's wards with only 39% of residents in full time employment.

Fretting over the future

Holyrood has gentrified somewhat since 2001, but it's nothing like the change that will come about through the controversial Caltongate project, possibly the largest development in the Old Town's history. While the scale of the project has rallied the community together, there must be some Holyrood residents for whom the taste of anomie must be becoming all too palpable.

* The anomie index is the sum of the following multiples:

  • numbers of non-married adults multiplied by a weight of 0.18
  • number of 1-person households multiplied by a weight 0.50
  • number of people who have moved to their current address within the last year multiplied by 0.38
  • number of people renting privately multiplied by 0.80