Black and white harder to define in new British families

Dramatic growth in racial diversity among British youth 

26 January 2009

Race is soon to become an obsolete notion as the profile of the British population becomes more and more diverse.

Lucinda Platt, of the Institute for Social & Economic Research (University of Essex), produced a study released on 19 January 2009 that sparked huge controversy on what the ethnic profile of Britain will become in the near future.

The research “Ethnicity and family: Relationships within and between ethnic groups”, commissioned by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), reveals that the percentage of young people from ethnic minority backgrounds is on the rise, as is the number of young people from families of mixed heritage.

According to the report, if current trends continue, ethnic minorities and those from mixed race backgrounds will make up an increasingly large proportion of the population in the future. This new and growing diversity among young people already makes the very concept of black and white harder and harder to define.

The new profile of British population

The report reveals how Britain is a relatively homogenous country dominated by a White British majority. Around 85 per cent of individuals in the period analysed (2004-2008) described themselves as White British.

However, there are indications of change and increases in diversity of the population. Almost 20 per cent (or one in five) children under 16 were from minority groups, and nearly 3 per cent of children under 16 were from one of the mixed ethnicity groups. Around 9 per cent of children were living in families containing mixed or multiple heritages.

Here is the broken down data on the new profile of British population:

• 20 percent of young people under the age of 16 are from an ethnic minority background, compared to fifteen percent of the total population.
• 3 percent of children under 16 are mixed race, compared to .5 percent of adults.
• Nearly 10 percent of children under 16 live in a family with mixed black or Asian heritages.
• The average age for someone of a mixed race background is significantly younger than their white counterparts – 16 for those from mixed white and Caribbean backgrounds and 18 for mixed white and Asian backgrounds – compared to an average age of 40 for white British people.

Mixed-race partnerships

The report also reveals a dramatic rise of inter-ethnic relationships.

In terms of population numbers, because White British are the overwhelming majority, more White British people were in an inter-ethnic partnership than those from other groups. Nonetheless, the vast majority of the population is still found in families which are entirely White British in origin and where family contact with minority groups is not likely. However, rates of inter-ethnic partnership appear to be increasing across the generations.

This is true for all groups, with an overall a trend of younger couples being more likely to be in inter-ethnic unions with ethnic minority men and women born or brought up in Britain having higher rates of inter-ethnic partnership than the rates for men and women from those groups overall.

Here is a data breakdown:

• 48 percent of Black Caribbean men are in mixed race relationships.
• 34 percent of Black Caribbean women are in mixed race relationships.
• Inter-ethnic partnerships were more prevalent than average also among Black African (22%) – versus 17% of women – and Chinese women (39% )- versus 17% men.
• Overall, younger people from most ethnic backgrounds are more likely to be in mixed race relationships; 10 percent of 16-29 year olds, compared to 8 percent of 30-59 year olds.

The decline in partnerships among people from the same ethnic background may reflect a general view that race itself does not provide as meaningful a basis when selecting a partner, compared to other things young people may have in common like education, friends, attitudes and beliefs, suggests the author of the report.

A note on Black-Caribbean population

This report reveals that about half of men with Caribbean backgrounds in Britain is in a relationship with a partner of a different race.

While such levels of inter-ethnic partnership may be celebrated as playing a substantial role in the development of new, mixed identities – revealing the positive potential in Britain of inter-ethnic relations and breaking down traditional barriers and distinctions – there may be some losses involved, “ Ms Platt comments. “it may be increasingly difficult for Caribbeans to sustain distinctive cultural and community institutions”.

“This may also potentially make it harder for families to transmit values and practices associated with their Caribbean heritage, to sustain family histories and to maintain connections with disparately located family members".

Drawing a conclusion

A spokeswoman for EHRC commented the report saying, "Britain is changing in a remarkable way. One in five of our children are from an ethnic minority background and young people are six times more likely to be mixed race compared to adults. The old, polarising debate about black and white is changing and the next generation will not see race in the same way we see it.

"This is hugely positive and we can afford a moment to celebrate: Britain’s diverse culture is becoming all the more fascinating and inter-connected. But we can’t afford to be complacent, because we face other challenges. We need to be alert to tensions within communities that may be exacerbated by the economic downturn and remain vigilant against discrimination and divisiveness – particularly across boundaries of faith."


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