A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46

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The main results given in this report relate to the adult civilian population only, that is to people who have left school and are not in the forces. However, it is as well before discussing these results to give a summary picture of the situation as a whole in which children are also considered.

No information was obtained in this inquiry about the forces, but it should be borne in mind that the age and sex composition of the civilian population has been considerably altered by call-up and, therefore, the number of cyclists on the road in war-time is not a very good indication of the number there is likely to be in peace time. It is shown in this report that more men than women ride bicycles. Also it is reasonable to suppose that people aged under 45 are more likely to be cyclists than are older people. x This suggests that as demobilisation proceeds the relative increase in the number of cyclists on the roads is likely to be greater than the relative increase in the civilian population as a whole.

Information was obtained from housewives as to the number of children in their families who rode bicycles. It may be calculated from this that of all civilians who rode bicycles at the time of the inquiry, around 16% were school children, and that the proportion of school children who rode bicycles was not very much lower than the porportion of adults who did so.

It appears that about 25% or slightly more, of the civilian population, excluding only infants aged under 5, rode either their own or other people’s bicycles. The number of cyclists on the road would thus be about ten million.

Apart from these estimates the information given here concerns only adults.

The proportions of the sample owning and using bicycles are shown below.

Table 1
Own bicycle 26
Use, but do not own 3
Do not own or use 71
SAMPLE: 2862

Thus about a quarter of adult civilians possess bicycles.

Differences in the ratio of those who owned bicycles to those who used other people’s bicycles amongst different groups of adults are not very large or of much interest. In the tables which follow, therefore, results are given for two groups only, “cyclists”, those who own or use bicycles, and “not cyclists”, those who neither own nor use them.

A higher proportion of men than women owned or used bicycles.

Table 2
Cyclists Not cyclists Sample
Men % 42 58 1197
Women % 19 81 1665
Total % 29 71 2862

The proportions owning or using bicycles in different occupation groups were as follows:

Table 3
Occupation Group Cyclists Not cyclists Sample
Factory work (1) % 42 58 475
Factory work (2) % 29 71 264
Agriculture % 65 35 111
Mining % 29 71 83
Building, Transport etc. % 41 59 190
Distributive % 38 62 247
Clerical % 42 58 243
Managerial, Professional % 32 68 157
Miscellaneous % 23 77 116
Housewives % 11 89 811
Retired and unoccupied % 3 97 165
All groups % 29 71 2862

Factory work (1) includes those working in engineering and munitions and in heavy industries. Factory work (2) includes all other factory workers.

In general, as would be expected, groups with a relatively high proportion of male workers show high proportions of cyclists. In comparing the two factory groups for instance, it is seen that workers in munitions and heavy industries have a higher proportion of cyclists than other factory workers. Men predominate in the former group and women in the latter. Similarly the building and transport group shows a high proportion of cyclists, and the vast majority of workers in this group are men.

However, clerical workers also show a high proportion of cyclists although in this group there are rather more women than men.

The highest percentage of cyclists is found in the agricultural group. This group consists almost entirely of men, but also, as will be seen later, people living in rural areas more frequently use bicycles than those living in towns.

Housewives and the retired and unoccupied group have very low proportions of cyclists. The latter group consists mainly of old people. These two groups contain all the non-workers, and in the table below results for them are compared with results for all workers.

Table 4
Cyclists Not cyclists Sample
Non-workers % 10 90 976
Workers % 38 62 1886
Total: % 29 71 2862

Analysis by economic group is shown below. Since the economic level of on individual is often associated more closely with the economic level of his family than with his personal income, informants were asked the wage rate or occupation of the chief wage earner in the family and classified accordingly.

Table 5
Wage rate of chief wage earner in family: Cyclists Not cyclists Sample x
Up to £2.10s. % 15 85 321
Over £2.10s to £3.12s. % 27 73 563
Over £3.12s. “ £5. % 31 69 1147
Over £5. “ £10. % 33 67 548
Over £10. % 23 77 105
All groups % 29 71 2862

The middle groups show higher proportions of cyclists than the lowest and the highest. The lowest economic group differs most markedly from other groups. This group consists largely of social pensioners - old people and service men’s wives who are not themselves earning.

A further breaking down of these figures gives results which may be of some interest. The table below shows the percentages of workers and of housewives and retired or unoccupied people in the different economic groups who owned or used bicycles.

Table 6
Wage rate of chief wage earner in family: Workers % cyclists Sample Housewives, retired & unocc. % cyclists Sample
Up to £2.10s. 35 109 5 212
Over £2.10s. to £3.12s. 35 389 8 174
Over £3.12s. “ £5. 39 831 11 316
Over £5. 39 426 15 227

It will be seen that there is not much difference in the proportions of workers who are cyclists in different economic groups, but that in the case of the non-workers the proportion of cyclists rises with economic status.

It might be expected that a higher proportion of people in rural areas than in urban areas would ride bicycles, since transport services run less frequently and are fewer in the country than in towns. Results show that this is so, but the difference is perhaps, not so great as might be expected.

Table 7
Cyclists Not cyclists Sample
Urban % 27 73 2290
Rural % 35 65 572
Total % 29 71 2862

In considering the results for different geographical regions it should be remembered that the proportion of the population living in rural areas varies very much from one region to another.

The regions given below are those used by the Ministry of Food.

Table 8
Cyclists Not cyclists Sample
Scotland % 11 89 319
North % 24 76 168
North-East % 18 82 250
North-West % 25 75 408
North-Midlands % 33 67 204
Midlands % 45 55 273
East Anglia % 53 47 186
Wales % 16 84 181
South % 56 44 154
South-West % 39 61 133
South-East % 35 65 128
London % 21 79 458
Great Britain % 29 71 2862

Regions with a high proportion of their population living in rural areas are East Anglia, the North-Midlands, the three Southern areas and Wales. It may also be relevant to say that comparatively high proportions of the population in these regions live in small towns rather than in large urban concentrations. All these regions except Wales have high proportions of cyclists. The percentages are particularly high in the South and East Anglia.

In Wales, the proportion of cyclists is markedly low, and the same may be said of Scotland.

Another noteworthy result is the high proportion of cyclists in the Midlands. This area has a lower than average proportion of its population living in rural districts, but except for East Anglia and the South, has a higher proportion of cyclists than any other region. It has, in fact, a higher proportion of cyclists than the North Midlands, although in this area twice as great a section of the population live in rural districts. The North and North East taken together have about the same proportion of their population living in rural areas as has the Midlands, but here the percentage of cyclists is only about half as great as the percentage in the Midlands.

The Midlands may be compared with London and the North-West in that a very high proportion of the population in these regions live in built up industrial areas. In view of this the contrast in the percentages of cyclists is very marked, 45% in the Midlands as against 21% in London and 25% in the North-West.

Habits in different regions may be influenced to some extent by topography, cycling being less popular for instance in the South-West, which is hilly, than in East Anglia, which is flat. Differences in climate may also have some influence.

In giving, these results it should perhaps be noted again that in selecting the sample, care was taken that the correct proportions of informants in rural areas and in large and small towns were included in each region. The proportions of men and women in different occupation groups were also representative within the regions.

Before going on to discuss the purposes for which bicycles are used, it would perhaps be useful to present the results given above in another form. So far it has been shown what proportions of different groups of the population own or use bicycles, but it is also of interest to know what proportions of cyclists belong to different groups.

Among the 2862 people interviewed, there were 818 who owned or used bicycles. Of these, 62% were men and 38% were women, whereas of the whole sample, representing the adult civilian population, 42% were men and 58% were women.

25% of the cyclists lived in rural areas and 75% in towns. Of the population about 20% live in rural areas.

The cyclists were distributed in different occupation groups es shown below:

Table 9
% %
Occupation group: cyclists whole sample
Factory work (1) 24 55 17 40
Factory work (2) 9 9
Agriculture 9 4
Mining 3 3
Building and Transport 10 7
Distributive 11 30 9 22
Clerical 13 8
Managerial & Professional 6 5
Miscellaneous 3 4
Housewives 11 12 28 34
Retired and unoccupied 1 6
SAMPLE: 818 2862

Grouping the figures shows that 58% of cyclists are manual (including miscellaneous) workers and nearly one-third other workers. Relatively few cyclists are housewives or unoccupied people.

The regional distribution is as follows:

Table 10
% %
cyclists whole sample
Scotland 4 11
North 5 6
North-East 6 9
North-West 12 14
North-Midlands 8 7
Midlands 15 10
East Anglia 12 6
Wales 4 6
South 11 5
South-West 6 5
South-East 5 5
London 12 16
SAMPLE: 818 2862

The Midlands, the North-Midlands and East Anglia together contribute about 35% of the cyclists, although these regions have only 22% of the population. Scotland and Wales account for 17% of the population but only for 8% of the cyclists. 22% of the cyclists were in the three Southern regions and these regions have 15 - 16% of the population. On the other hand the three Northern regions have 29% of the population and about 23% of the cyclists. The results are of course, subject to sampling error, but in all cases the differences pointed out are significant.

[1] This material was collected incidentally in the course of another inquiry and unfortunately, information as to the age of informants is not available. Analyses of results by age groups cannot therefore, be given.

[2] Economic group was unclassified in 178 cases, and therefore the samples for individual groups do not add to the full total 2862.

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The most outstanding results of this section are summed up in the table below:

Table 11

Groups with High Proportions of Cyclists

% informants who were cyclists
Men 42
Factory (war) workers 42
Agricultural workers 65
Building and Transport workers 41
Clerical workers 42
All workers 38
People in the Midlands 45
“ “ East Anglia 53
“ “ the South 56

Groups with Low Proportions of Cyclists

% informants who were cyclists
Women 19
Housewives 11
Retired and unoccupied people 3
Non-workers 10
The lowest economic group 15
People in Scotland 11
People in Wales l6
People in the North-East 18
People in London 21

Of all informants, 29% owned or used a bicycle.

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