Brexit: The more educated a city's population, the less likely it was to vote Leave

Oh. Image: Getty.

The latest instalment of our weekly series, in which we use the Centre for Cities’ data tools to crunch some of the numbers on Britain’s cities. 

There are many reasons why someone might have voted for Britain to leave the European Union. Belief in national sovereignty; concerns about immigration; straight up racism.

There are reasons to think, though, the one of the big ones – this is going to be controversial, but it does seem to be true – might be lack of education.

[Brief pause, while I delete my email address from the "contact us" page and build a bunker of some sort.]

Okay, that's not entirely fair. For one thing, we're looking at aggregated, city-wide data here. Cities with (spoilers) more educated populations were less likely to vote leave – but that tells us nothing about the individuals within them.

For another – say it with me – correlation is not causation. The fact that more educated cities were full of remain voters might be because of some entirely unrelated factor, to do with culture or economics or something else I haven't even thought of.

Those caveats out of the way, though, the results on this as pretty clear cut. Here's an interactive map showing the proportion of working-age residents in each city that have NVQ4 level qualifications or above (graduates, basically). Darker dots mean higher numbers:

That doesn't immediately look like any obvious pattern. But look at the cities which make the top 10:

That’s two university cities, Oxford and Cambridge; three Scottish ones (Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Glasgow); Bristol, Cardiff, London, and a couple of the capital's plush commuter towns (Reading and Brighton).

Now look at this chart we published on Monday, showing which cities had the highest votes for Remain. The two aren't directly comparable – ours uses local authority boundaries, not (larger) Primary Urban areas, and we covered fewer cities.


This time, the top 10 includes Oxford and Cambridge; three Scottish cities (Edinbrugh, Aberdeen, Glasgow); Bristol, Cardiff, London and Brighton. Nine cities are in the top 10 on both lists.

(The only substitution, incidentally, is that we've lost Reading for Manchester. My guess is that's because the Manchester local authority has a quite different profile to the Manchester PUA, which includes 10 boroughs instead of one. But I'm guessing.)

Here's a scatter graph, plotting graduate population against Remain vote in the 29 cities that are in both data-sets. Once again, it's worth remembering that these are using quite different boundaries, something you'd expect to have an impact on any correlation.

And yet:

That is a correlation co-efficient of 0.84. Which is really, really high. Even though it's different boundaries, and so yada yada yada.

There could be other factors at work here, and Paul Swinney, the chief economist at the Centre for Cities, has been trying to work out what they might be. (His charts use the "leave", rather than "remain", vote so the correlation runs the other way. Also, where a point is on 0 per cent, that's a lack of data, not a city with no graduates whatsoever or some such.)

Here's Pauls chart plotting graduate populations against the leave vote:

This one is residents without five good GCSEs (the closest we have to a sort of school leaving certificate):

This one is residents in skilled manual occupations:

Lastly, one that's rather less clear, plotting wages against leave vote:

So – income wasn't a huge factor. But education level and type of occupation  were pretty clearly factors in how people voted last Thursday.

Or, to put it another way, it seems a lot like less educated people were more likely to vote Leave.

Please don't write in.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @jonnelledge.

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Where did London’s parakeets come from?

Parakeets in the skies above Wormwood Scrubs, west London. Image: Getty.

Visitors to London’s many green spaces would have to be stubbornly looking at their feet to not see one of the UK’s most exotic birds.  Dubbed “posh pigeons” by unimaginative Londoners, these brilliant green parakeets stand out among the fauna of Northern Europe’s mostly grey cities.

‘Parakeets’ is actually an umbrella term referring to the multiple species, which can now be found in London, Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris and various German cities. By far the most common is the Indian ring-necked parakeet, easily recognisable by the stylish red ring around their neck, a matching red beak and, of course, the loud squawking.

In the last 50 years these migrants from South Asia have arrived and thrived, settling into their own ecological niche. In the UK, London is a particular stronghold, but although they may have originally settled in the leafy streets of Twickenham, the birds can now be found in cities as far north as Glasgow.

The story of how they ended up in London is a matter of some discussion and plenty of myth. One often reported theory is that the capitals’ current population are the descendants of birds that escaped from Shepperton Studios during filming of The African Queen, starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. Others would tell you that they escaped from Syon Park in the early 1970s, when a piece of debris from a passing plane damaged the aviary and allowed them to escape. This chimes with their original concentration in South West London.
My favourite story by far is that they were released by Jimi Hendrix on Carnaby Street in the late 60s. Bored of London’s grey skyline, he set the little fellas free to liven up the place.

However they got here, from 1970 onwards their numbers boomed. In 1992, 700 birds were recorded in London Bird Report. By 1998, 2,845 were seen in the London Area, and by 2006 the ring-neck parakeet was 15th most sighted bird in London.

Darwin would be proud at how well they adapted to the new environment. Toughened up by the hard Himalayan climate, they handle the cold northern European winters better than most locals. Global warming is often brought up in discussions of the parakeets, but it is certainly only part of the story.
It helps, too, that the birds have a 35 year lifespan and few local predators, enabling them to breed freely.

As with any new species, the debate has raged about whether they are harmful to the ecosystem. Strangely reminiscent of the debate over human migrants, often the birds have often been accused of stealing the homes of the natives. The parakeets do nest in tree cavities also used by jackdaws, owls and woodpeckers – but there is little evidence that native species are being muscled out. 

The also provide a food source for Britain's embattled birds of prey. Owls and peregrine falcons have been know to eat them. Charlie and Tom, two city dwelling falcons monitored by Nathalie Mahieu, often bring back parakeets as food.
Of more concern is the new arrivals’ effect on plants and trees. By 2009 their numbers in the UK had grown so much that they were added to the “general licence” of species, which can be killed without individual permission if they are causing damage.

And Parrotnet, am EU funded research project studying the development of parakeet populations across Europe, has warned of the risk they pose to agriculture. In their native India, the parakeets are known to cause widespread damage to crops. As agriculture develops in the UK in line with warmer climates, crops such as maize, grapes and sunflower will become more popular. In India the birds have been documented as reducing maize crops by 81 per cent.

So the parakeets remain divisive. Environmentalist Tony Juniper has disparagingly described them as “the grey squirrel of the skies”. By contrast, the University of York biologist Chris D. Thomas has argued that the parakeets should be left free to move and breed. He sees those wary of the parakeet boom of “irrational persecution” of the bird.

For good or ill the parakeets are here to stay. As so often with migrants of all kinds, there has been some unease about the impact they have had – but the birds, popular amongst Londoners, certainly add colour to the city. Thriving in the urban environment thousands of miles from their natural habitat, they are a metropolitan bird for Europe’s metropolitan cities. 

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