East side story: mapping Bristol

What can we learn about the evolution of neighbourhoods from historical maps? And why is the east side of a city often poorer than the west?

Author: Yanos Zylberberg

A striking feature of cities around the world is the large disparity in neighbourhood composition – who lives where – often reflecting long-term segregation. Bristol is no stranger to these extreme inequalities with the deprived neighbourhoods of Barton Hill or the Dings just a few miles from the affluent Clifton neighbourhood. New techniques to digitise the information contained in historical maps of the city can help us understand the how different neighbourhoods have developed, and why such inequalities are so persistent.

What can we learn about neighbourhoods in Bristol from historical maps?

During the first half of the nineteenth century, the Great Western Cotton Factory opened the Barton Hill Cotton Mill in the Barton Hill district, most likely due to the easy access to waterways. The large factory attracted poorer workers from the rural hinterlands, sometimes from much further north. The factory polluted the local area, as did the surrounding chimneys of other factories, foundries and tanneries. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the Barton Hill Cotton Mill was still operating; the neighbouring areas had however experienced a prolonged decline in living standards from the dismal environmental conditions, the low quality of public amenities such as schools, the systematic flight of richer residents to other areas, and the mirroring arrival of poorer migrants.

The Barton Hill Cotton Mill (Bristol City Council Museums)

The Great Western Cotton Factory was liquidated in the 1920s, leading to a further decline of the Barton Hill area over the twentieth century. This decline was hardly mitigated by the destruction of the factory and the subsequent land remediation, slum clearances, and other, numerous urban renewal policies. By contrast, the hillside settlement of Clifton remained the richest part of town for the past two centuries, mostly unaffected by the successive transformations of the city through industrialisation, war bombings, and then deindustrialisation.

Why are the east sides of cities poorer?

This story of industrialisation, migration from rural to urban areas, inequalities existing alongside disparities in environmental conditions, neighbourhood segregation and (mostly ineffective) urban policies has not only shaped Bristol, but many British cities. One clear illustration of these underlying forces is the east to west – poorer to richer – pattern of neighbourhoods which can be observed across many cities that were formerly heavily reliant on industry. For example, the east sides of London and Manchester, and internationally, New York City or Paris are notoriously poorer than their west sides. The main mechanism at play is reminiscent of the ‘Barton Hill story’: the prevailing winds, from west to east, meant that the atmospheric pollution from coal-burning factories was mostly driven towards the east side of the city, leading to residential flight by those who could afford it, which still persists today.

While this story of disparities within cities appears to be straightforward and simple, in fact it is not, and many different factors underlie the evolution of different areas. For example: city residents, including migrants, will care about exposure to environmental pollution to different degrees and have different means of escaping it; the cost of land in different areas can lead to factories increasingly concentrating in (cheaper) polluted areas; people who work in these industries may want to live nearby due to a lack of commuting options despite the worse amenities. Large-scale changes will also play a role over time: environmental effects on surrounding areas through the conversion of farmland to built-up land; the invention of the steam engine and improvements in public transport enabled a greater division of areas into purely residential versus commercial; and slum clearances, war bombings, social housing policies, and gentrification can further tilt the trajectory of neighbourhoods.

How to turn maps into data

Figure 2: The Barton Hill Cotton Mill in the 25 inch to the mile Ordnance Survey maps.

Our research takes a new approach to try and shed light on these mechanisms – using maps. We are generating unique data capturing the structure of cities combining information from local-level historical Census records capturing the characteristics of residents and workers and data derived from historical maps – the 25 inch to the mile Ordnance Survey maps covering England and Wales. These maps were produced at irregular intervals (approximately every twenty years) between 1880–1960, and were sufficiently precise to report detailed features such as industrial chimneys, lamp posts, or even the structure of gardens for the villas of affluent neighbourhoods – a reminder of the fastidiousness of early Victorian mappers. These maps have the potential to capture a comprehensive, changing image of the city, just like Google Maps does today.

Digitising these historical maps presents challenges. They are essentially a collection of highly unorganised information: writing, symbols, lines/segments, or coloured/striped surfaces, which have to be interpreted and converted into data. To do this, the research is using methods that rely on the latest innovations in visual recognition and machine learning to identify a collection of features that are important to understand the location of production, public amenities, and housing – e.g., industrial chimneys, factories and their names, market halls, corn exchange, schools, theatres, prisons, churches, union workhouses, roads and their names, train stations etc.. The resources produced can then be used by those interested in urban development to better understand the trajectory of their cities and how early policy decisions can leave an imprint in the very long run.

The project will create an interactive map of Bristol which combines the information drawn from the analysis of the historical maps – pollution imprints, neighbourhood composition and urban renewal activities – with oral histories from two Bristol neighbourhoods, Barton Hill and the Dings/St Philips. The data on industrialisation, pollution and slum clearances will also be added to the website “Know Your Place” and help connect it to communities for urban planning. More Broadly, the resources can be used to inform policy decisions through a deeper understanding how different neighbourhoods have developed, and why inequalities are so persistent.


World Health Day 2022 – Our Planet, Our Health – CEPS Research

Vicky Jackson and Zac Richardson
This post was written for the CEPS and School of Economics, University of Bristol blog pages.

On World Health Day we are highlighting the work of colleagues in the School of Economics and the Centre for Evidence Based Public Services (CEPS). This year, World Health Organisation (WHO)’s theme is ‘Our Planet, Our Health’ and focuses on the interrelated challenges of health and the environment. In particular, WHO is concerned with highlighting the political, social and commercial decisions which continue to drive the climate and health crisis. With this year’s theme they seek to challenge the present design of the economy which leads to inequitable distribution of income, wealth and power. Instead, they propose the development of sustainable well-being societies committed to achieving equitable health now and for future generations without breaching ecological limits.

Here at the School of Economics our agenda includes health, education, welfare reform, urban planning and the environment with an emphasis on data-intensive research that delivers practical solutions to real-world problems. Inequality is a key theme within economics, so it should be no surprise that our research tackles the sources and consequences of inequality. Our research and policy recommendations are intended to change everyday decisions we make, including working towards fairer, more equitable and sustainable societies through the improvement of public services. We are proud of the research and analysis that colleagues have produced, a list of recent research on health and the environment can be found at the end of this blog. Our wider research activity can be explored here.


Our health research covers a range of topics, including the efficiency of healthcare delivery and individual and household decision-making in relation to health and healthcare. Much of our research focuses on the co-dependence between health and economic outcomes, exploring how shocks to health and well-being affect outcomes such as educational attainment and employment, as well as vice versa.  In a recent paper, Born on a Busy Day: Midwives Buffer Effects of Crowded Wards on Babies and Mothers, Hans Sievertsen and co-authors assessed the impact of crowded wards using a study of nearly 800,000 births to look at maternity wards. They found midwives adjusted their care strategies for mothers to ease workload pressure during busy periods. Surprisingly, the shifts in treatment brought no obvious signs of harm to mother and child. Patrick Gaule and co-author have examined what the research and development response to COVID-19 tells us about medical innovation and how lessons from the response could be used to scale up innovation to confront other deadly diseases as well as global challenges like climate change. While economists tend to see market size as the main driver for innovation, they argue a broader perspective that takes the greater good into account is needed. The response to the pandemic shows that when the incentives are right innovation can proceed at a very fast pace.

In her recent paper “The impact of health on labour supply near retirement”, Monica Costa-Dias and co-authors assessed the role of different measurements of health in the estimation of the impact of health on employment. Accurately capturing this relationship has important implications for targeted policy to help reduce inequality. Amongst their conclusions they found that health is a more important driver of employment among those who left education earlier. Jeremy McCauley has studied the link between dementia and disadvantage in the USA and England. He and his co-authors found inequality in dementia prevalence according to income, wealth and education in both the USA and England. Overall, England has lower dementia prevalence and a less strong association with socioeconomic status. Most of the difference between the two countries is concentrated in the lowest socioeconomic group, which suggests disadvantage in the USA is a disproportionately high-risk factor for dementia.

Researchers also looks at household and individual decision-making in relation to health and healthcare aiming to make policy recommendations for individual and societal good. Christine Valente’s main research interests lie in household decisions regarding fertility and human capital investments in developing countries: “Provide women with information about the risk of pregnancy to increase contraceptive demand.” Her research into contraceptive use found women in the South of Mozambique generally hold accurate or plausible beliefs about the effectiveness of contraception, but that they underestimate the risk of pregnancy in its absence. Addressing this underestimation, rather than focussing solely on free contraception is key to reducing unwanted pregnancies. She has been awarded a major grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to continue this research with a major study in Nigeria.

Patrick Arni and colleagues examined ‘biased health perceptions’, that is how people overestimate their health and how these misperceptions are strongly linked to unhealthy behaviours: Overconfidence in Health Linked with Unhealthy Lifestyles According to Economic Report. The findings point to several potential public health interventions: those with biased health perceptions could be targeted for public health campaigns aimed at reducing risky health behaviours. Regular health check-ups and screenings, in addition to nudging people to seek regular feedback about their health, could also be effective. Stephanie von Hinke also studies the economics of obesity, diet and nutrition, looking at both potential causes and consequences of the recent rise in body weight, as well as at evaluating ways to improve dietary choices. With Eleonora Fichera she has written on nutrition labelling, evaluating the impact of the introduction of front of packet nutritional labels on households’ shopping baskets in the UK. They found that the introduction of labelling did affect households’ food choices, and also led manufacturers to improve the healthiness of their labelled products. They recommended the widening of food labelling across more products and more food retailers.

Stephanie also investigates the importance of genetics, early life environments, parental investments, and government policy in explaining individuals’ health and well-being over their lifetimes. She currently holds an ERC Starting Grant, “Developmental Origins: exploring the Nature-Nurture Interplay,” which explores these questions. Her recent CEPS blog Genes and Upbringing Both Matter for Educational Success highlighted this nature-nurture interplay as inextricably linked in a study finding that eldest siblings, typically blessed with extra attention from their parents, do especially well in education when they also possess certain genetic traits. In a recent working paper, “The Long-Term Effects of Early-Life Pollution Exposure: Evidence from the London Smog” Stephanie von Hinke and Emil N Sørensen used information on exposure to the London smog of 1952 to investigate the impact of early-life pollution exposure on individuals’ human capital and health outcomes in older age. They found those exposed to the smog have substantially lower fluid intelligence, the ability to think and reason abstractly and solve problems, and worse respiratory health.

See Stephanie Von Hinke discuss her work on Economics and Genetics in this Bristol Talk Economics talk.


Our environmental research evaluates the effects of transport infrastructure investments, as well as using house price responses to transport and environmental policies as a method of valuing their perceived costs or benefits. Other research covers the pricing policies of airports and looks at urban development in multiple country settings.

Yanos Zylberberg and colleagues’ work examines pollution and spatial inequalities in relation to urban expansion. In a recent article, “East Side Story: Historical Pollution and Persistent Neighbourhood Sorting,” they explored historical pollution patterns and their impact on urban development. They found past pollution explains up to 20% of observed neighbourhood segregation and spatial inequalities in 2011, even though coal pollution stopped in the 1970s.

Yanos’s current Open Research Area funded project:  MAPHIS: What Historical Maps Can Tell Us About Urban Development will advance our understanding of long-run urban growth through the digitisation and examination of historical maps spanning almost a century. It will explore the historical evolution of urban neighbourhoods from 1870 onwards and help us better understand how urban planning decisions made today affect the cities of tomorrow. A striking feature of cities around the World is the large differences in neighbourhood composition, which may reflect segregation fuelled by rural-urban migration and unequal exposure to environmental dis-amenities. Little is known about the patterns of city development during the structural transformation of economies, MAPHIS will seek to address this.

See Yanos Zylberberg talk about his current project, MAPHIS.

He has also studied the impact of nuclear power plant development on local areas by examining the effect of the 2011 Fukushima disaster on property prices in England. They found that property prices fell, and deprivation rose in neighbourhoods near nuclear-power plants as richer residents left the area. The study has implications for policies aimed at reviving local areas and suggests that areas with highly mobile workers are less resilient in the face of local shocks.

Helen Simpson’s research covers urban economics and the effects of place-based policies. She currently holds a British Academy Fellowship for her project “Cities, productivity and levelling up”. This will investigate whether the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to have long-term effects on where people in some occupations live and work. These choices, as well as decisions by firms on what now constitutes the workplace, could have implications for UK cities and regional economic inequality. While the direct effects of the pandemic will likely amplify existing spatial inequality in the UK, any acceleration towards working, and spending, from home may also affect affluent cities and the extent to which they derive benefits from density. Helen’s project will map these trends and their impact on local economic performance, drawing out implications for the ‘levelling up’ agenda.

Economics can provide the tools and evidence to help challenge the political, social and commercial decisions we continue to make that are driving the climate and health crisis. Economics can also shape the development of new more sustainable societies providing equitable health now and for future generations without breaching ecological limits. Here at the School of Economics and CEPS our researchers will continue to contribute to these critical conversations.

Recent Research by the School of Economics and CEPS on Health and the Environment 

Ruchir Agarwal, Patrick Gaule, ‘What does the R&D response to Covid-19 tell us about innovation?,’ Economics Observatory [Blog], 6 September 2021, https://www.economicsobservatory.com/what-does-the-rd-response-to-covid-19-tell-us-about-innovation. 


Ruchir Agarwal, Patrick Gaule, ‘What drives innovation? Lessons from COVID-19 R&D’, Journal of Health Economics, Volume 82, 2022, 102591, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhealeco.2022.102591. 


Karolos Arapakis, Eric Brunner, Eric French, Jeremy McCauley, ‘Dementia and disadvantage in the USA and England: population based comparative study’. BMJ Open, 11(10) (2021). https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2020-045186  


Karolos Arapakis, Eric French, John Bailey Jones, Jeremy McCauley ‘On the Distribution and Dynamics of Medical Expenditure Among the Elderly’. (2021). University of Michigan Retirement and Disability Research Centre Working Papers. 436. https://mrdrc.isr.umich.edu/publications/papers/pdf/wp436.pdf 


Patrick Arni, Davide Dragone, Lorenz Goette, Nicolas R. Ziebarth, ‘Biased health perceptions and risky health behaviors—Theory and evidence,’ Journal of Health Economics, Volume 76, 2021, 102425, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhealeco.2021.102425.   


Patrick Arni, Michelle Kilfoyle, ‘Overconfidence in Health Linked with Unhealthy Lifestyles According to Economic Report,’ CEPS [Blog] 10 November 2021. https://ceps.blogs.bristol.ac.uk/2021/11/10/overconfidence-in-health-linked-with-unhealthy-lifestyles-according-to-economic-report/  


Pietro Biroli Titus Galama, Stephanie von Hinke, Hans van Kippersluis, Cornelius A. Rietveld, Kevin Thom, ‘Economics and Econometrics of Gene-Environment Interplay,’ 25 February 2022, School of Economics, University of Bristol Working Paper Series wp22/759. http://www.bristol.ac.uk/efm/media/workingpapers/working_papers/pdffiles/dp22759.pdf  


Tom R.P. Bishopa, Stephanie von Hinke, Bruce Hollingsworth, Amelia A.Lakee, Heather Brown, Thomas Burgoine, ‘Automatic classification of takeaway food outlet cuisine type using machine (deep) learning’, December 2021, Machine Learning with Applications, vol 6, 2021. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2666827021000530?via%3Dihub 


Bernard Black, Eric French, Jeremy McCauley and Jae Song. ‘The effect of disability insurance receipt on mortality’. 16 November 2017. https://econ.hevra.haifa.ac.il/images/icagenda/files/di-death52.pdf 


Richard Blundell, Jack Britton, Monica Costa Dias, Eric French, ‘The Impact of Health on Labour Supply Near Retirement’, The Journal of Human Resources, 19 January 2021, http://jhr.uwpress.org/content/early/2020/11/04/jhr.58.3.1217-9240R4.full.pdf+html  


Eleonora Fichera, Stephanie von Hinke, ‘The response to nutritional labels: Evidence from a quasi-experiment,’ Journal of Health Economics, Volume 72, 2020, 102326, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhealeco.2020.102326 


Eric B. French, John Bailey Jones, Elaine Kelly, Jeremy McCauley, ‘End of Life Medical Expenses’. 22 September 2019. VoxEU CEPR Blog. https://voxeu.org/article/end-life-medical-expenses 


Eric B. French John Bailey Jones, Elaine Kelly, Jeremy E Mccauley, End of Life Medical Expenses. in Handbook of Aging and the Social Sciences . 9 edn, Academic Press. https://www.richmondfed.org/-/media/richmondfedorg/publications/research/working_papers/2018/pdf/wp18-18.pdf 


Eric B. French, Jeremy McCauley, et al. ‘End-Of-Life Medical Spending In Last Twelve Months Of Life Is Lower Than Previously Reported’. July 2017. Health Affairs, vol. 36. https://www.healthaffairs.org/doi/10.1377/hlthaff.2017.0174 


Stephan Heblich, Alex Trew, Yanos Zylberberg, ‘East Side Story: Historical Pollution and Persistent Neighborhood Sorting’. Journal of Political Economy, 129(5), 1508-1552. 2021. https://doi.org/10.1086/713101 


Jonas Maibom, Hans H. Sievertsen, Marianne Simonsen, Miriam Wüst, ‘Maternity ward crowding, procedure use, and child health’, Journal of Health Economics, Volume 75, 2021, 102399, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhealeco.2020.102399 


Loubaba Mamluk, Timothy Jones, Sharea Ijaz, Hannah B Edwards, Jelena Savović, Verity Leach, Theresa H M Moore, Stephanie von Hinke, Sarah J Lewis, Jenny L Donovan, Deborah A Lawlor, George Davey Smith, Abigail Fraser, Luisa Zuccolo, ‘Evidence of detrimental effects of prenatal alcohol exposure on offspring birthweight and neurodevelopment from a systematic review of quasi-experimental studies’, International Journal of Epidemiology, Vol 49, December 2020. https://doi.org/10.1093/ije/dyz272


Steven Proud, ‘Funding Social Care’, Bristol Economics Blog, 7 September 2021. https://economics.blogs.bristol.ac.uk/2021/09/07/funding-social-care/ 


Mohammad Mahbubur Rahman, Saseendran Pallikadavath, Rabeya Khatoon. ‘Does Shorter Postnatal Hospital Stay Lead to Postdischarge Complications? An Instrumental Variables Approach’. 14 April 2019. Journal of International Development, vol. 31, 5. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jid.3412 


Han H. Sievertsen, Michelle Kilfoyle, ‘Born on a Busy Day: Midwives Buffer Effects of Crowded Wards on Babies and Mothers,’ CEPS [Blog], 24 November 2021. https://ceps.blogs.bristol.ac.uk/2021/11/24/born-on-a-busy-day-midwives-buffer-effects-of-crowded-wards-on-babies-and-mothers/. 


Hans H. Sievertsen, CT Kreiner. ’Neonatal health of parents and cognitive development of children’ January 2020. Journal of Health Economics, vol. 69, 102247. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0167629618310609?via%3Dihub 


Christine Valente, Grant Miller, Áureo de Paula, Páscoa Zualo Wate, ‘Provide women with information about the risk of pregnancy to increase contraceptive demand’, Policy Briefing 82: March 2020, Policy Bristol. http://www.bristol.ac.uk/policybristol/policy-briefings/information-pregnancy-risk/ 


Christine Valente, Grant Miller, Áureo de Paula, ‘Subjective Expectations and Demand for Contraception,’ July 2021 https://www.christinevalente.com/_files/ugd/573cc0_f0edc60449b64cc3b026821d634b9e3e.pdf  


Nicolai Vitt, Martina Vecchi, Jonathan James, Michel Belot, ‘Daily Stressors and food choice: Evidence from a lab experiment with low SES mothers’ (2021), European Economic Review, vol 136, January 2021. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0014292121001070?via%3Dihub 


Nicolai Vitt, Martina Vecchi, Jonathan James, Michel Belot, ‘Maternal stress during pregnancy and children’s diet: Evidence from a population of low socioeconomic status’, (2021), Nutrition, vol 93, January 2021. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0899900721002859?via%3Dihub 


Stephanie von Hinke, ‘Education, Dietary Intakes and Exercise’ 23 June 2021, University of Bristol Working Paper Series wp21/748. https://www.bristol.ac.uk/efm/media/workingpapers/working_papers/pdffiles/dp21748.pdf 


Stephanie von Hinke and David Avdic, ‘Extending alcohol retailers opening hours: Evidence from Sweden’ (2021), European Economic Review, vol 138, November 2021. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0014292121001665?via%3Dihub 


Stephanie von Hinke, ‘Gene-Environment Interplay in the Generation of Health and Education Inequalities’, NORFACE, 2022. https://gene-environment.com/ 


Stephanie von Hinke, Michelle Kilfoyle, ‘Genes and Upbringing Both Matter for Educational Success,’ CEPS [Blog], 17 December 2021 https://ceps.blogs.bristol.ac.uk/2021/12/17/genes-and-upbringing-both-matter-for-educational-success/  


Stephanie von Hinke, Emil N Sørensen, ‘The Long-Term Effects of Early Life Pollution Exposure: Evidence from the London Smog,’ 18 February 2022, School of Economics, University of Bristol Working Paper Series wp22/757. http://www.bristol.ac.uk/efm/media/workingpapers/working_papers/pdffiles/dp22757.pdf  


Stephanie von Hinke, Eleonora Fichera, ‘Nutrition labelling helps individuals choose healthier foods,’ Policy Briefing 94: Nov 2020, Policy Bristol. http://www.bristol.ac.uk/policybristol/policy-briefings/nutrition-labelling-helps-individuals-choose-healthier-foods/ 


Yanos Zylberberg, Michelle Kilfoyle, ‘Study Reveals How the Flight of the Rich from Homes Near Nuclear Power-Plants Brings Local Deprivation,’ CEPS [Blog], 27 October 2021. https://ceps.blogs.bristol.ac.uk/2021/10/27/study-reveals-how-the-flight-of-the-rich-from-homes-near-nuclear-power-plants-brings-local-deprivation/    

Study Reveals How the Flight of the Rich from Homes Near Nuclear Power-Plants Brings Local Deprivation

Photo Credit: Tokyo Electric Power Co., TEPCO

Dr Yanos Zylberberg and Michelle Kilfoyle
 26 October 2021

Nuclear power is expected to play a key role in the UK’s Net Zero ambitions by supplying low-carbon energy. However, a new study finds that public fear of nuclear-power plants can heighten local deprivation. Following the Fukushima disaster in 2011, property prices in England fell and deprivation rose in neighborhoods near nuclear-power plants, the research shows.  Driven by richer residents fleeing these areas, the study from the University of Bristol’s Centre for Evidence-based Public Services (CEPS) in the School of Economics, in collaboration with the University of Melbourne, suggests that this deprivation is likely to snowball over time based on historic evidence from nuclear-power-plant neighborhoods. 

News of the Fukushima catastrophe in Japan sent shockwaves across the globe as Chernobyl-scale radiation levels forced 150,000 residents to evacuate their homes in neighborhoods near the Fukushima-Daiichi power plant. The accident dented public trust in nuclear power in many countries the world over. Yanos Zylberberg of CEPS and Melbourne’s Renaud Coulomb uncovered some of the economic effects of this shift in public attitudes in England. By analysing house prices for the period 2007-2014, using Land Registry and mortgage data, they found that house prices fell by 4.2%, on average, in neighborhoods within 20 kilometres of all eight of England’s nuclear-power plants in the wake of Fukushima. This price drop represents around £9.2 billion in total.  

The drop is mostly explained by residents leaving these neighborhoods as they became more fearful of nuclear-power generation, or even first learned that a nuclear-power plant was nearby, following the furor brought by the accident. Tellingly, prices for houses near non-nuclear (oil and gas) power plants were unaffected by Fukushima. The greatest loss was seen for high-value homes, showing that it was richer residents who left these neighborhoods, i.e., those who are more willing  ̶  and able  ̶  to pay to move to ‘better’ areas. 

This flight of richer residents led to a distinct rise in deprivation levels near the nuclear-power plants. On a scale of 0-1 (based on UK Government indices of deprivation), with 0 representing the most deprived neighborhoods and 1 the least, the deprivation rank for nuclear neighborhoods fell by 0.02 points. 

Not all neighborhoods were affected equally, however. Those with a higher share of ‘mobile’ jobs, that is, professions that can be easily found in other parts of the region or country, suffered most as workers were freer to move away. Mobile occupations include those in finance, light manufacturing and distribution. Post-Fukushima, house prices dropped by about 8.8% in neighborhoods with the most job mobility, compared with 1.2% in neighborhoods with the least. 

This demographic shift is likely to have long-term consequences which are not limited to an event as extreme as Fukushima. Further analysis by the study shows that the share of low-skilled workers rose markedly over three decades (1971 ̶ 2001) in neighborhoods of England where new nuclear-power plants opened in the early 1970s.  This ‘rich flight’ trend is, again, far more pronounced in neighborhoods with a highly mobile workforce. The loss of richer residents has negative knock-on effects for the residents who remain, the study warns; their departure may lead to the loss of amenities or employers who need skilled workers, for instance.  

The study, thus, sheds lights on a cost imposed by the nuclear industry on local communities in England, although also acknowledges that the sector’s full range of costs and benefits – such as effects on energy prices and climate change impacts – are not assessed. Further, its findings are not true of all countries. Other studies have found similar patterns in Germany and Switzerland, for example, but not in the USA and Sweden. Local context, such as risk perception, insurance coverage and the local composition of jobs, shape nuclear-power plants’ neighborhood effects. 

In addition, the study provides insights for policymakers tasked with reviving towns and regions through place-based policies introduced under leveling-up strategies. The findings indicate that areas with highly mobile workers are less resilient in the face of local shocks, such as the arrival of unpopular amenities. But the researchers also caution that places with a non-mobile or overly specialised local labour force may also be highly vulnerable to economy-wide shocks. 

Dr Yanos Zylberberg – Associate Professor, School of Economics – University of Bristol
Michelle Kilfoyle – CEPS Science Writer