BSA38: Social inequality press release

Scotland is more egalitarian than England – but not as much as the Nordic countries

People in Scotland are more likely than people in England to say that Britain is an unequal society, and are more likely to want to live in a more equal country, according to a chapter in the latest British Social Attitudes report from the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen).

But attitudes towards social inequality and social justice in Scotland do not match those of the egalitarian-minded Nordic countries.

These are the findings of new analysis, written by Dr Chris Deeming of the University of Strathclyde and published today by NatCen, which compares survey data collected in Scotland with similar data for England, Denmark, Finland and Norway – gathered in 2019, as part of the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP).

People in Scotland are most likely to feel that differences in incomes are unfair…

In Scotland, nearly three in four (73%) said the distribution of incomes in Britain is unfair, compared with around two thirds (65%) in England.

In the Nordic countries of Denmark and Norway, where income inequality is much lower, 38% and 52% respectively said income differences in their country were unfair, while in Finland 63% expressed that view.

…And to believe that they live in an unequal society

25% in Scotland said they feel they live in a highly unequal society, compared with 17% in England and hardly anyone in Denmark and Norway.

Meanwhile, only 11% in Scotland claim British society is broadly equal, compared with 17% in England.

People in the Nordic countries are much more likely to feel their society is broadly equal – 53% in Norway, 51% in Denmark and 39% in Finland.

People in Scotland are the most dissatisfied with government’s efforts to reduce inequality…

37% of people in Scotland say that government in Britain has been ‘very unsuccessful’ at reducing the differences between people on high incomes and those on low incomes – compared with 29% in England.

The equivalent figure is much lower in the three more equal Nordic countries – 21% in Norway, 18% in Finland and 11% in Denmark.

But Scotland lies between England and the Nordic countries in its attitude towards buying private education and healthcare

Almost half of people in Scotland say it is wrong for people with higher incomes to buy better education (46%) and better healthcare (42%).

In England the equivalent figures are 34% and 32% respectively.

In the Nordic countries however, a clear majority say it is wrong that people can buy better education – 70% in Norway, 62% in Finland, and 60% in Denmark. And most people in these countries say it is wrong people can buy better healthcare – 65% in Norway, 51% in Finland, and 50% in Denmark.

In addition, 65% of people in Scotland agreed that the government should provide a decent standard of living for the unemployed, rather more than the 60% who did so in England, but less than the figure of 78% in Norway, 76% in Denmark, and 71% in Finland.

Dr Chris Deeming, Senior Lecturer, University of Strathclyde, said, “There is a greater concern about social justice in Scotland than in England, though perhaps the difference is of degree rather than of kind. Certainly, attitudes towards inequality north of the border do not, at present at least, match the profile of Nordic social attitudes. Even so, thanks to the higher level of inequality in Britain, people in Scotland are most dissatisfied of all with government progress tackling inequality.”

Sir John Curtice, Senior Fellow at NatCen, said: “There has long been a debate north of the border between those who claim that the values of people in Scotland are similar to those of people in England, and those who argue that Scotland is similar to outlook to the Nordic countries. This analysis suggests that, when it comes to attitudes to inequality at least, Scotland lies somewhere in between – and that perhaps both sides in this debate are at risk of exaggerating their case.”


For more information please contact:

Oliver Paynel, Media and Communications Officer
National Centre for Social Research
t: 0207 549 9550, m: 07734 960 071, e:

Katie Crabb, Head of Marketing and Communications
National Centre for Social Research
t: 0207 549 8504, e:

Notes to editors

1. The National Centre for Social Research, Britain’s largest independent social research organisation, aims to promote a better informed society through high quality social research (

2. British Social Attitudes: the 38th Report will be published on 21st October 2021 and freely available at The editors are Elizabeth Clery, John Curtice, Sarah Frankenburg, Hannah Morgan and Susan Reid. The views expressed in the report and press release are those of the report authors and editors alone.

3. NatCen’s British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey has been conducted annually since 1983. Each year the survey asks around 3,000 people what it's like to live in Britain and what they think about how Britain is run. Since 1983 more than 100,000 people have taken part in the survey.

4. The questions reported in this press release were fielded as part of the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP). The results for Scotland are based on 674 interviews conducted with people aged 18 to 74 between 30 August 2019 and 18 March 2020 as part of ScotCen’s Scottish Social Attitudes Survey. The findings for England are based on 1,302 interviews conducted with people aged 18 to 74 between July and October 2019 as part of NatCen’s British Social Attitudes Survey. Funding for the inclusion of these questions on social inequality on the two surveys was provided by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). The ESRC support the participation of Britain in the ISSP, a collaboration whereby surveys in 42 countries administer an identical module of questions in order to facilitate comparative research. For further details about ISSP see