London (CNSNews.com) - The population of some English cities is changing to such a degree, that within several decades, whites will be the largest among ethnic minority groups, according to a new report.
Scholars and others here agree that England's population is growing more ethnically diverse, but they differ on whether various groups are becoming more or less segregated.
University of Manchester academics Ludi Simpson and Nissa Finney predict in a report that in Birmingham, the second largest city in England, the white population will become a minority by 2024 -- still the largest group by far, but no longer accounting for a majority of the total population.
The cities of Leicester and Bradford will likely reach the same point in about 30 years, with white residents matched in number by the descendents of immigrants from Africa, Asia and the Caribbean, they say.
England's population has been overwhelmingly Caucasian throughout its history. The shift began shortly after World War II, when the government encouraged men from the former colonies to fill factory posts left empty by the casualties of war.
Although Wales and Scotland remain largely homogeneous, a 2001 census found that England's white, native-born population had dropped to 87 percent.
Simpson predicts that the white population of England will plateau at around 75-80 percent in a couple of decades, depending on the vagaries of future immigration and the social dynamics of the individual groups.
In recent years, as tensions have risen between the Muslim community and others in Britain, commentators have frequently warned that some ethnic groups are becoming isolated from the rest of society.
Simpson, however, said recent government studies show that ethnic minorities are increasingly moving out of the cities and into the suburbs, merging with the broader population.
That assessment appears to contradict a report last month by the government-funded Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), which warned that segregation was increasing in England.
The CRE report said an ethnic minority baby born in Britain today is more likely to go to substandard state schools, to receive poor health care and to live in his or her own group's separate neighborhood.
CRE director of policy Nick Johnson said that his group had relied on much of the same data used by Simpson but had approached the subject from a different angle. He suggested that Simpson may have been wary of stirring up "fear of diversity."
Mohammed Anwar, a professor at the University of Warwick, said it could be difficult to talk broadly about race relations in Britain since different ethnic groups were going through different experiences.
For example, prosperous Indian immigrants in the East End of London are following the path set by Jewish immigrants in the same neighborhoods decades before and moving out to the suburbs, he said.
Elsewhere, however, many British Muslims have been facing more discrimination since 2001, he said.
"This debate about whether segregation is increasing or decreasing is not supported by the figures," he said. "It's remaining the same."
Muddying the picture further is the prediction of some analysts that people of mixed race will become the largest ethnic minority sometime in the next two to three decades.
According to a study in the late 1990s by the Policy Studies Institute think tank, an estimated 40 percent of black children in Britain had one white parent. One-third of all British-born black women were reportedly married or in a long-term relationship with a white man, with the figure rising to half of all British-born black men.
Cass Gilroy, an editor with African Echo, a newspaper for African immigrants in Britain, said Tuesday British identity was becoming more fluid.
As was the case in America, he said, British identity was increasingly becoming something that one chose, rather than simply a matter of birth.
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