A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46

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Bicycles are a very common form of transport. Accurate information about which groups of the population use them, and for what purposes, is useful to those engaged in transport organisation, the location of industry in relation to dwellings, and the analysis of road accidents.

In April 1944, in the course of another inquiry, the Wartime Social Survey was able to collect information about the use of bicycles.

The inquiry was mainly concerned with the habits of adults, but a subsidiary question was asked of housewives about child riders so that an estimate of the total number of civilian cyclists on the roads could be made.

A representative sample of the adult civilian population of Great Britain was selected and interviewed. An adult was defined for the purpose of this inquiry as a person who has left school.

Men and women were selected in representative proportions from different occupation groups in each of twelve regions (the Ministry of Food’s regions), each region being represented in the total in proportion to its population. Care was taken that the sample was correctly balanced within each region in respect of the proportions of people living in large and small towns and in rural areas.

In determining the numbers of persons to be included in different occupation groups Ministry of Labour industry statistics were used together with estimates from other sources.

Workers were interviewed at their places of work and housewives and unoccupied people at their homes. Interviewers were instructed to select informants at random within the different occupation groups and were told the number of housewives to interview in different economic and age groups.

In all 2862 persons were interviewed. Details of the sample are given on page 20.

Informants were asked first whether they owned or used a bicycle, and then whether they used bicycles for getting to work, for going shopping and for leisure activities.

With regard to the questions on the uses of bicycles it should be noted that habits are likely to vary from time to time and particularly with the season of the year. It is known for instance from other inquiries made by the Wartime Social Survey that the proportion of workers who cycle to work varies with different seasons, more cycling in the summer and fewer in the winter. The results of the present inquiry relate to April 1944 and it might be misleading to assume that the proportions using bicycles for different purposes would be the same at other times. It would certainly be misleading to do so in the case of the proportions using bicycles for getting to work.

Our thanks are due to Mr. Nevill Whall, Secretary of the Cyclists Touring Club, who suggested the main lines of the inquiry as being the most useful to departments at the present time.

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Summary of Results and Conclusions

It is estimated that at the time of the inquiry there were altogether about ten million cyclists. About 16% of these were school children, and of the remainder some 62% were men and 38% women.

Of all informants interviewed (these were all adults) 26% possessed bicycles and 3% rode bicycles belonging to other people.

There are very marked differences in the proportions of different sections of the population who use bicycles.

A considerably higher proportion of the men interviewed than of the women were cyclists, 42% as against 19%.

As might be expected those occupation groups in which the majority of workers are men, agriculture, building, transport and public services, and heavy manufacture and munitions work, show high proportions of cyclists. But there is also a high proportion in the clerical group in which there are rather more women than men.

Of all workers 38% but of housewives only 11% and of the retired and unoccupied only 3% were cyclists.

The middle economic groups show somewhat higher proportions of cyclists than the lowest and highest groups.

Of people in rural areas 35%, and of those in urban areas 27%, used bicycles.

East Anglia, the South, and the Midlands are the regions with the highest proportions of cyclists. Scotland and Wales have particularly low proportions. In general more people ride bicycles in the Southern half of England than in the Northern half. The area covering the Midlands and North Midlands, East Anglia and all the Southern regions except London has about 57% of all cyclists but only 38% of the population.

27% of all the workers interviewed cycled to work regularly at this time. 33% of male and 17% of female workers did so.

The proportion cycling to work was particularly high amongst agricultural workers, 51%. Of manual workers 29% and of non-manual workers 22% cycled to work.

23% of workers in urban areas as against 47% of workers in rural areas cycled to work. The proportions cycling to work are in general high in those regions with high proportions of bicycle users, and in England in those regions with a large rural population. Thus regions with high proportions of workers cycling to work are East Anglia 61%, the South 54%, the Midlands 42%. Regions with low proportions are, Scotland 7%, Wales 15% and London 19%.

Only a small proportion, 5%, of informants used bicycles regularly for shopping, and a further 3% did so occasionally. Women with bicycles used them for shopping more than men with bicycles, possibly because women have more shopping to do. Of housewives with bicycles 52% used them for shopping, but only 11% of housewives had bicycles.

A somewhat higher proportion of people in rural areas than of people in urban areas did their shopping on bicycles.

Of the whole sample 18% and of cyclists 63% used bicycles for leisure purposes. 7% of all informants used bicycles in this way once a week or more often and 11% did so less than once a week.

There are interesting differences in the proportions using bicycles for leisure activities in different groups of the population. Women cyclists used bicycles for leisure rather more than men cyclists, the proportions being 77% and 55% respectively. However as fewer women than men had bicycles the proportion of all men using bicycles for leisure is higher than the proportion of all women doing so, 24% as against 14%.

Amongst occupation groups clerical and distributive workers show high proportions using bicycles for leisure activities. In these two groups the proportions cycling to work were not very high. Of agricultural workers with bicycles rather less than half use bicycles for leisure, although of all cyclists about two thirds do so. The proportion of all agricultural workers using bicycles in this way is however fairly high because so many of these workers have bicycles.

Considering only those with bicycles there is a tendency for manual workers to use bicycles more for work and for non manual workers to use bicycles more for leisure. Of the former group 75% cycle to work and 55% use bicycles for leisure, and of the latter 58% cycle to work and 74% use bicycles for leisure.

About the same proportions of all informants in urban and rural areas used bicycles for leisure purposes, but of cyclists only 54% in the country as against 67% in the towns did so.

The proportions using bicycles for leisure purposes are high in the South, East Anglia and the Midlands, and low in Scotland and Wales. In general it can be said that bicycles are used relatively rather more for leisure in the South of England and rather more for work in the North of England and in Wales.

Short summaries with tables are given at the end of each section.

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