Credit Artur Kraft via unsplash

A Glasgow state of mind

By Alexandra Agar

Some call it fate, others call it the “Glasgow effect”. Exceptionally high levels of mortality within the city of Glasgow have earned it this name; but what does it mean?

A 2010 study analysed how in Glasgow, a post-industrialised city, deaths were 14% higher in comparison to similar de-industrialised cities such as Manchester and Liverpool. “All-cause premature mortality (deaths under 65) in Glasgow… was more than 30% higher” than Liverpool and Manchester, whilst ‘excess’ mortality was greatest in the working-age groups of 15-44 and 45-64, where it was 45% and 30% higher respectively”. This can be attributed to issues such as “cancer, heart disease and strokes”, however “60% of those excess deaths are triggered by just four things – drugs, alcohol, suicide and violence”.

Whilst there is a particular trend of these issues amongst the working-class population, whereby economics remain one of the greatest factors in premature deaths, “across all ages and social classes the chances of dying prematurely are 15% greater”. It is difficult to draw all these deaths to one cause, but the effects of post-industrialisation can be attributed to many of them. Mass social and economic downturn in 1960s Glasgow saw the collapse of industry, resulting in an “economic shock” amongst working class communities. This led to an increase in ‘deaths of despair’ from drugs, suicide and alcohol, most prominent in those suffering from greater levels of poverty. One study found that “people in the bottom 40% of the income distribution are almost twice as likely to report poor health than those in the top 20%”. This is due to those in lower income brackets suffering from greater levels of stress, and thereby worse levels of health due to unstable employment and income. Higher (and more stable) levels of income are therefore shown to lead to greater levels of health, with a 2021 research study finding that “an increase of around £1,000 in an area’s average income is associated with 0.5 years of additional good health in men.”

The repercussions of this “economic shock” is not just limited to higher levels of health complications, as communities have felt disenfranchised and alienated by the “blind economic forces beyond their control”. Whilst many have sought out community to provide support, many have felt they have been “’[losing] their traditional cultural anchors’“, and as a result seeking an identity and purpose elsewhere. Whilst many students in Glasgow are, to a degree, familiar with the cultural aspect of football, the deep cultural and religious roots are missed on many. The deeply sectarian roots of football in Glasgow, specifically teams such as Rangers and Celtic, has created a cultural and religious community for many who have sought comradery. Whilst many believe the reason for these sectarian roots are embedded in “feelings of cultural exclusion” for working-class Catholics and Protestants, the desire for a community and camaraderie as a result of economic hardship is prevalent. One study conducted on Sectarian Antisocial behaviour discovered that “youth with higher strength of group identity reported fewer emotional problems.” Whilst there are obvious detriments to this form of community cohesion, such as depression and anxiety due to violence and socio-political conflict, what it represents for many people is community in the face of adversity.

Whilst these issues remain pertinent within many communities, for students at Glasgow University they can seem like another world away. For many from outside the city, a Union flag sticker on a lamppost, or a fight starting out at Four Corners over a baggie is a novelty of the city, another way that “People Make Glasgow”. For the residents of this city, this is the “Glasgow Effect” alive in the flesh.

The reality for many students is that they will never fully understand what the “Glasgow Effect” means for the people in this city. Of course, there are elements of it that nobody in the city can escape from. One aspect of the “Glasgow effect” had been put on the cold, rainy weather and lack of sunlight which has “caused chronic vitamin D deficiency” within residents. The result of this is a vitamin D deficiency, which one study estimates affects around 20% of the population. This can lead to low immunity and fatigue. Depression or seasonal affective disorder (SAD), “a type of depression that affects sufferers in the winter when there’s less sunshine”, is also another impact of low Vitamin D levels, affecting around 2 million Brits. Stephany Biello, professor of neuroscience and biopsychology at the University of Glasgow stated that “it’s a lot more common in countries like Scotland where the climate isn’t as good and there are so few hours of daylight in the winter.” One solution that researchers have discovered is the northern European style of Hygge, a design choice popular in Denmark that promotes cosy living. What cognitive science researchers have found is that the benefits of this style combining warm lights, fires and candles are positive in cognitive restoration, thereby boosting our moods during the winter months.

The “Glasgow effect” has also had its influence on drinking culture, with the ban on drinking outdoors past 10pm, a law that is implemented nowhere else in Scotland. The aim of this bill was to “curb alcohol-related crime, anti-social behaviour and underage drinking,” and undeniably has had an impact on students, many of whom simply wish to save some money and go sit in the park on a sunny day. This decision was also influenced by a 2014 research study which uncovered how 83% of 16-24 year olds in Scotland consume alcohol. A study looking at alcohol consumption in university students found 43% of the student population reported drinking above recommended daily and weekly limits. In the same study, it was uncovered that 126 young people aged 15 to 24 “were hospitalised for alcohol dependence, psychoses and alcoholic liver disease” in 2013/2014, with a 200% increase in hospitalizations of 15-24 year-old due to alcohol related problems over the past 30 years. However, it is important to recognise the “anti-working class” implications of this bill, as it “only serves to benefit pub, bar and restaurant owners at the expense of the poor who simply wish to enjoy their local parks…” This is again another example of the “Glasgow Effect”, legalisation and social prejudices which have disproportionately disadvantaged working-class Glaswegians.

It is ultimately those who have lived and breathed Glasgow for the majority of their lives who have been hit the hardest by the “Glasgow effect”, especially those who have been at the brunt of the socio-economic down-turn. So, maybe it’s time for many students to leave their “West-end bubble”, to take a break from their usual iced oat coffees and travel down to the South or East side to get a sense of what this city is about. Or maybe it’s okay if we stick around in Woodlands. Maybe the gloomy days and the dark nights are enough for us. Ultimately, Glasgow city isn’t for the faint-of-heart; but for many of us students we need to remember, we have it pretty good here.


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