TAPAS.network | 1 August 2023 | Commentary | John Siraut

Ethnicity and travel, findings from the 2021 Census

John Siraut

A special analysis of Census data by John Siraut has sought to identify distinct patterns of travel amongst diffrent ethnic groups.

Introduction

In recent years there has been an increased focus on understanding the different transport experiences and usage patterns of women compared to men. However, there remains a paucity of research and data on how people from different ethnicities use the transport network. The 2021 Census provides an opportunity to explore this subject in some detail, at least, with regards to travel to work.. Mode choice typically depends on income, distance from workplace, availability of provision (eg workplace parking, public transport services), perceptions of safety and personal circumstances. By trying to account for some of these factors we can see if there are underlying differences in how people from different ethnicities commute. This is done by cross-tabulating data to account for variations in qualifications, occupations, and location.

It is important to note that personal data protection measures limit the depth of analysis that can be undertaken. For instance, data on mode choice, ethnicity and occupation is only accessible at the national level for all workers in England and Wales, making it impossible to differentiate between genders at this level of analysis. Therefore, this article explores different segments of the data at two different spatial levels to provide a snapshot at a given moment of time. It looks at occupation level data for England and Wales and qualification and gender data at the regional level. The analysis only includes those travelling to work, that is, it excludes those working from home.

The England and Wales 2021 Census used nineteen different ethnicity definitions as set out in table 1. This article adopts simplified descriptions derived from these classifications. Not all ethnicities are covered by the analysis as the number of people in some are too small to draw any meaningful comparisons at a mode level.

38.5.1

Analysis by occupation

Our starting point is that at occupation level people will broadly be paid the same and therefore differences in mode choices are not dictated by differing income levels. Although, it should be noted that within occupations there will still be differences in seniority and between full and part time workers which will be reflected by different incomes and hence possibly mode choices.

The Census categorises employment into 104 occupations of which six are undertaken by over 750,000 people across England and Wales. These are:

  • Caring personal services

  • Sales assistants and retail cashiers

  • Functional managers and directors

  • Teaching and other educational professionals

  • Road transport drivers

  • Construction and building trades.

The nature of five of these occupations is reasonably well defined and involve jobs that mainly take place in a workplace, an important factor given the Census was carried out during the COIVD pandemic. They are also undertaken in all parts of the country and encompass both lower and higher paid jobs. The sixth (functional managers and directors) lacks clarity regarding its scope and encompasses roles that can be more readily undertaken at home. Consequently, this analysis focuses on the mode use of individuals employed in the other five occupations, exploring how these patterns differ based on ethnicity. To be included in the analysis there must be at least 5,000 people from any of the ethnic groups undertaking the relevant occupation to ensure reasonable sample sizes for any particular mode of transport. Train or rail use includes National Rail, London Underground, tram and light rail services.

Caring personal services

Over 80% of people working in this occupation are women and nearly 30% come from a minority ethnic group. Figure 1 shows for the eleven largest ethnic groups in this profession, the proportion who commute by bus, car and foot.

Figure 1: Proportion of those working in Caring personnel services commuting by driving bus or foot by ethnicity

38.5.2

Source: Jacobs analysis of England & Wales Census 2021, https://www.ons.gov.uk/datasets/create

As with all occupations covered in this analysis, driving is the most common mode for commuting, with 60% of those working in Caring personnel services driving to work. Amongst White British care personnel this rises to 66%, nearly ten percentage points higher than for next highest group. At the other end of the scale, car use is around 40% for Black African, Black Caribbean, Other Asian, and Other White care personnel. Bus use tends to be the mirror image of car use, being highest, at around 30%, for Black African, Black Caribbean and Other Black care personnel. It is notable that these ethnicities also have some of the largest differentials between bus use and walking. Walking is highest amongst Bangladeshi and Indian care workers at 16%.

Teaching and other educational professionals

Women make up nearly 70% of this occupation category and those from an ethnic minority group, 23%. This is an occupation where earnings tend to be higher than average and this is reflected in the very different mode choice for commuting compared to those in the care services sector. For example, rail and underground use is higher rising to 16% for Black African teachers although it is only 2% for White British teachers. Cycle use is highest for Other White and White Irish teachers at between 6-8% and lowest for Pakistani and Bangladeshi teachers at just 1%. Walking has less variation ranging from 15% for Other White teachers to half at, at 7% for White British teachers. As many teaching staff prefer not to live in their schools’ catchment area, the proportion of those walking and cycling to work is perhaps higher than might be expected.

Figure 2: Proportion of those working in teaching and other education professional commuting by train, cycling and foot by ethnicity

38.5.3

Source: Jacobs analysis of England & Wales Census 2021, https://www.ons.gov.uk/datasets/create

Construction and building trades

This is the least diverse of the occupations analysed, with women making up just 2% of the workforce and those from an ethnic minority only 17% and the latter concentrated in just a few ethnic groups. Hence figure 3 covers just five different ethnic groups and compares their use of rail and bus. By its very nature construction work tends to be quite mobile as workers move from one construction site to another and hence there is generally very high car use.

However, rail use is perhaps surprisingly high reaching 25% for Other White and 14% for Indian workers. This contrasts with just 2% amongst White British workers. Bus use on the other hand is much lower at just 1% for White British workers rising to 8% for Indian workers.

These results highlight the fact that different ethnic groups and occupations are not uniformly distributed across the country and high rail use in this case is a function of the concentration of some ethnic construction workers in London.

Figure 3: Proportion of those working in Construction and building trades commuting by train and bus by ethnicity

38.5.4

Source: Jacobs analysis of England & Wales Census 2021, https://www.ons.gov.uk/datasets/create

Sales assistants and retail cashiers

This occupation is made up of 64% women and 25% from an ethnic minority with significant representation across virtually all ethnicities. Hence figure 4 shows use of train, bus and walking across thirteen ethnic groups.

There is most consistency across walking ranging from 15% for Black African sales assistants and rising to 25% for Other White workers, reflecting the fact that these type of jobs tend to be filled by local residents with shorter commutes. Given lower pay levels, use of public transport also tends to be higher but here there are much greater differences between ethnicities. Black African and Black Caribbean retail workers display the highest reliance on buses, with 36% and 33%, using them, respectively. Thus falls to just 10% for White British workers. Train use is far lower but still reaches 21% for Bangladeshi workers and 18% for Black African retail workers. In contrast White British retail workers have the lowest use, with only 2% using this mode of transport.

Figure 4: Proportion of those working in Sales assistants and retail cashiers commuting by walking, train and bus by ethnicity

38.5.5

Source: Jacobs analysis of England & Wales Census 2021, https://www.ons.gov.uk/datasets/create

Road Transport Drivers

This occupation has both high and low levels of diversity. High in the sense that 35% are from an ethnic minority and low in that just 7% are female. Figure 5 shows the use of taxis, motorcycles and other modes of transport for this occupation’s commute.

Given that many people who work in this sector are taxi and minicab drivers it is not surprising that taxis have a high market share, reaching 11% for Pakistani drivers. Bangladeshi, Other Asian, Arab, and Black African drivers also have relatively high percentages of taxi usage, ranging from 7% to 8%.

It is also the occupation with far higher than average motorbike usage. Arab drivers have the highest use of motorbikes at 5%, followed by Other White drivers at 3%. Motorbike usage percentages for other ethnicities range from 1% to 2%.

The other category, also scores highly, this mainly relates to individuals driving lorries that are based at their home address.

Figure 5: Proportion of those working as road transport drivers commuting by motorbike, taxi and other by ethnicity

38.5.6

Source: Jacobs analysis of England & Wales Census 2021, https://www.ons.gov.uk/datasets/create

Medical Practitioners

While a much smaller group with around 250,000 people, this is the most diverse occupation with a 50:50 gender split and 52% of people belonging to an ethnic minority. Hence figure 6 shows data for thirteen ethnic groups and their use of train, bus, cycle and walking.

Black Caribbean medical practitioners had the highest percentage of train usage at 15%. This was closely followed by Other Mixed or Multiple ethnic groups and Other White medical practitioners, both reporting a train usage of 13%. Chinese, White: Irish, and Arab medical practitioners also displayed relatively high train usage percentages, ranging from 12% to 13%. In contrast, Pakistani and White British medical practitioners had the lowest train usage percentages, both at 5%.

Black Caribbean and Black African medical practitioners had the highest bus use at 11% and 8% respectively. White British medical practitioners had the lowest bus usage at 1%.

The proportion of medical practitioners who walk or cycle to work ranges from 11% to 20% across the ethnic groups but there are significant differences in the split between those two modes by ethnicity. Whereas White Irish and White British medical practitioners are more likely to cycle than walk, Black African and Pakistani Medical Practitioners are around nine times more likely to walk than cycle.

Figure 6: Proportion of those working as medical practitioners commuting by train, bus, cycle and walking, by ethnicity

38.5.7

Source: Jacobs analysis of England & Wales Census 2021, https://www.ons.gov.uk/datasets/create

Conclusion

The above analysis has shown differences in mode use across ethnicities. However, some of the differences in mode use are likely to be the result of the differing spatial distribution of ethnicities. Low public transport use by White British people is possibly a reflection of their higher concentration in more rural areas and smaller towns. While those from other ethnic groups tend to be located in larger cities with better public transport options. Cycling tends to more prominent amongst White British and White Irish individuals but it also tends to be higher for men than women so without knowing the gender breakdown its not possible to draw any firm conclusions. So the next set of analysis considers location and gender. It considers two areas, the North West and the South East of England. The former is heavily urbanised while the latter is more suburban and wealthier.

Analysis by qualification, location and gender

This analysis uses qualification levels, in particular those with level 4 qualifications, that is, a degree or above. At a national level this skews the dataset towards younger people and at an aggregate level towards higher earners who in theory therefore will have a wider range of options in terms of which mode they can use.

North West

The North West dataset covers 800,000 people, of whom 78% are White British and 55% male, with fifteen ethnic groups consisting of more than 5,000 people.

With the exception of Other Asian women the majority of people drive to work as shown in figure 7. In most cases men are more likely to drive than women, with a gap of around twenty percentage points in the case of Indian and Other Asian commuters. The exceptions are women of White and Asian mixed ethnicity, White British and White Irish ethnicities who are more likely to drive to work than men. White British women and Pakistani men have the highest rates of driving. It is notable that Pakistani women also have very high rates of driving, around fifteen percentage points higher than Indian women, for example.

Figure 7: Proportion of those working in the North West with level 4 qualifications driving to work by gender and ethnicity.

38.5.8

Source: Jacobs analysis of England & Wales Census 2021, https://www.ons.gov.uk/datasets/create

Looking at the use of bus, walking and cycling the differences are equally varied between the different ethnicities as can be seen in figure 8, while figure 9 shows the difference between men and women by ethnicity.

For all ethnic groups women commute by bus more than men and the same applies for walking, with the exception for women of mixed Asian and White ethnicity where a higher proportion of men than women walk to work. The opposite applies to cycling where in all cases a higher proportion of men than women cycle to work.

Bus use is clearly highest amongst Black African women (22%) and Black African men (16%) compared to just 4% for White British women and 3% White British men. There is less variation when it comes to walking ranging from 20% for Indian women to 8% for Black African and White British women and 13% for Other Asian men to 6% for Pakistani men. Bicycle use across both genders and all ethnicities is very low.

Figure 8: Proportion of those working in the North West with level 4 qualifications commuting to work by bus, cycling and walking by gender and ethnicity.

38.5.9

Source: Jacobs analysis of England & Wales Census 2021, https://www.ons.gov.uk/datasets/create

Figure 9: Difference between women and men commuting to work by bus, cycling and walking by ethnicity for those working in the North West with level 4 qualifications.

38.5.10

Source: Jacobs analysis of England & Wales Census 2021, https://www.ons.gov.uk/datasets/create

For the South East, the dataset consists of over 900,000 people with level 4 qualifications of whom 52% are male and 70% are White British with sixteen ethnic groups consisting of more than 5,000 people. Figure 10 which shows the proportion of people who drive by gender and ethnicity is shows almost exactly the same pattern as that for the North West in terms of the proportion of men and women driving to work in each ethnic group.

Figure 10: Proportion of those working in the South East with level 4 qualifications driving to work by gender and ethnicity.

38.5.11

Source: Jacobs analysis of England & Wales Census 2021, https://www.ons.gov.uk/datasets/create

As can be seen in figure 11, as in the North West women across all ethnicities are more likely to use the bus or walk to work than men. For most ethnicities, men are more likely to commute by train than women, the exceptions are for Bangladeshi, Chinese, Other Asian, Other Black and Arab women who are more likely to use the train than their male counterparts.

Figure 11: Difference between women and men commuting to work by bus, train and walking by and ethnicity for those working in the South East with level 4 qualifications.

38.5.12

Source: Jacobs analysis of England & Wales Census 2021, https://www.ons.gov.uk/datasets/create

When looking at individual modes, figure 12, the differences between ethnic groups tends to be smaller than in the North West. However, Black African and Black Caribbean women are six times more likely to commute by bus compared to White British women. There is less differential amongst men with bus use generally being relatively low. There is less variation with regard to rail use, ranging from 12% for Indian men to 5% for Other Asian men. For women, the variation is larger ranging from just 3% for White British women and rising to over 10% for Black African and Other Black women. Walking shows the largest variation between ethnicities ranging from 24% for Other Asian women to 9% for Other Black women and from 16% for Other Asian men to 7% for Other Black men.

Figure 12: Proportion of those working in the South East with level 4 qualifications commuting to work by bus, train and walking by gender and ethnicity.

38.5.13

Source: Jacobs analysis of England & Wales Census 2021, https://www.ons.gov.uk/datasets/create

Conclusion

It is apparent from this analysis that the difference between men’s and women’s mode of transport for commuting are replicated across virtually all ethnic groups. Women are more likely to commute by walking and by bus than men, while men are more likely to cycle to work than women regardless of ethnicity.

There are, however, apparent differences in modes of transport used across ethnic groups. White British commuters are more likely to drive regardless of occupation or qualification than ethnic minority commuters. Hence those from ethnic minority groups are more likely to use public transport and walk than White British commuters. While along with White Irish and Other White commuters the latter are also more likely to cycle than other ethnic minority groups.

It is clear more research is needed to better understand these differences in mode use and the degree they exist for other journey purposes.

John Siraut is director of economics at Jacobs.

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