Social mobility and the emergence of new mixed-community identities: Mapping occurrence, understanding causes, determining consequences.

Recent evidence suggests that residential segregation between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland (NI) has declined (Shuttleworth, Barr, & Gould, 2013), and that the proportion of residentially ‘mixed’ areas has grown (Shuttleworth & Lloyd, 2014).* Accordingly, this development offers the potential to uncover two distinct, but possibly related phenomena. Firstly, it may allow some of the mechanisms of neighbourhood effects to be uncovered (Galster, 2012; 2008), and secondly it affords the opportunity to conduct research on peoples’ real-life experiences of intergroup contact (Pettigrew & Tropp, 2011).

The common factors which may link these two phenomena are stigma (Major & O’Brien, 2005) and social isolation (Jetten, Haslam, Dingle & Jones, 2014). It is possible that stigma and social isolation are related to living in deprived neighbourhoods (Wacquant, 1993). However, In NI, neighbourhood deprivation is also associated with religious segregation (Shirlow, 2001) and exposure to the conflict events that accompanied the ‘troubles’ (Muldoon, 2004). According to (Bunting, Murphy, O’Neill, & Ferry, 2012; Ferry et al., 2014) 39% of the NI population have been exposed to conflict events which carries a high risk of developing severe, enduring mental disorders (Ferry et al., 2014), requiring psychotropic medication (Benson, O’Neill, Murphy, Ferry, & Bunting, 2015).

Accordingly, unpicking the effects of social isolation and stigma on mental health from exposure to trauma associated with the ‘troubles’ may prove difficult. However, it is possible that individuals living with stigmatized identities choose to migrate out to mixed areas. As such, an improvement in wellbeing may be expected for these individuals. However, the same individuals may continue to conceal stigmatized aspects of their identity, and in so doing fail to identify with their new neighbours (Newheiser & Barretto, 2014; Obst & White, 2005), thus being deprived of social support (McNamarra, Stevenson & Muldoon, 2013). Such being the case, any improvement in mental wellbeing would seem unlikely, as would the prospects for positive contact at intergroup level.

The aims of this research are to employ explanatory mixed methods to uncover:

1)   The characteristics of individuals most likely to migrate from a highly segregated to less segregated SOA.

2)   Whether such migration has an impact on mental wellbeing, as measured by levels of psychotropic medication uptake, before and after migration

*Although any definition of residential integration, is arbitrary (Rich, 2009), for the purposes of the current research, it is defined in relative terms. Thus, areas with 90% or more Catholic or Protestant residents are defined as the most highly segregated, and as progressively less segregated as this proportion decreases by centile. SOA’s with an equal balance 50/50 Catholic/Protestant residents being the least segregated.


Research Team: Dr Ian Shuttleworth & Deborah Hyden
Database: NILS
Project Status: Complete
Organisation(s): Queen’s University Belfast