Investigating the Glasgow effect

The ‘Scottish Effect’ (and more recently, the ‘Glasgow Effect’) are terms that have been coined in recent years to describe the levels of poor health experienced in Scotland (and, particularly, Glasgow) in comparison to other parts of the UK over and above those explained by greater socio-economic deprivation. The causes of this ‘effect’ are unknown. The aim of the project was to carry out a population survey in three UK cities (Glasgow, Liverpool and Manchester) to gather new data on three potential explanations for Glasgow’s relatively poorer health profile. The three hypotheses were:

  1. that individual values in Glasgow are different from those in Liverpool and Manchester (e.g. Glaswegians have a different psychological outlook to others, in terms of their aspirations or ‘time preferences’ (and related levels of, and attitudes to, risk taking));

  2. that there are lower levels of social capital in Glasgow; or that Glasgow’s poor health derives from particular Thatcherite policies of the late 1970s/1980s (the ‘political attack’ hypothesis).

The results showed that there are differences in some aspects of social capital (trust and reciprocity, and social participation) between Glasgow and the two English cities. However, it appears less plausible that Glasgow’s population suffers from a lower sense of coherence, from the effects of different childhood experiences, or that the population is more associated with other particular ‘values’ that might have adverse impacts on health, such as psychological outlook, hedonism and future orientation (‘time preferences’) (although there is some evidence that Glasgow’s population may be more risk-seeking).

Outcome and Translation

It is crucial to understand what factors are associated with the poorer levels of health in Glasgow (after controlling for deprivation) so that effective policies can be formulated to address health inequalities.

HERU researchers involved in this research project:Marjon van der Pol and Ewan Gray

External Collaborators: D Walsh, R McLaughin RC Tannahill (Glasgow Centre for Population Health); G McCartney (NHS Health Scotland) and P Hanlon (University of Glasgow)


Walsh, D., McCartney, G., McCullough, S., Pol, M.van der., Buchanan, D. and Jones, R. (2013) Exploring potential reasons for Glasgow's 'excess' mortality: results of a three-city survey of Glasgow, Liverpool and Manchester, Glasgow: Glasgow Centre for Population Health.

Walsh, D., McCartney, G., McCullough, S., Pol, M. van der, Buchanan, D. and Jones, R. (2015) 'Comparing levels of social capital in three northern post-industrial UK cities', Public Health,129(6), 629-638.

Walsh, D., McCartney, G., McCullough, S., Pol, M. van der, Buchanan, D. and Jones, R. (2015) 'Always looking on the bright side of life? Exploring optimism and health in three UK post-industrial urban settings', Journal of Public Health, 37(3), 389-397.

Pol, M. van der, Walsh, D. and McCartney, G. (2015) 'Comparing time and risk preferences across three post-industrial UK cities', Social Science and Medicine, 140(September), 54-61.


Walsh, W., McCartney, G., McCullough, S., Jones, R. and Pol, M. van der (2012) 'What explains different health outcomes in identically deprived post-industrial UK cities?', Population Health: Methods and Challenges Conference, Birmingham, April 2012.

Pol, M. van der (2013) 'Can preference heterogeneity partly explain the Glasgow effect?', Glasgow Health Economics Seminar Series (GhESS), Glasgow, January 2013.

Pol, M. van der (2013) 'Can preference heterogeneity partly explain the Glasgow effect? Time and risk preferences and health behaviour.', School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR) Seminar Series, University of Sheffield, March 2013.

Pol, M. van der and Walsh, D. (2013) 'Can preference heterogeneity partly explain the Glasgow effect?', Health Economists' Study Group, University of Warwick, 26-28 June

Pol, M. van der (2014) 'Geographical preference heterogeneity: a plausible hypothesis for higher levels of mortality in Glasgow?', Institute of Health Economics and Management (IEMS) Seminars in Health and Labor Economics, University of Lausanne, 29 October 2014.

Pol, M. van der (2015) 'Investigating the Glasgow effect on health', Behavioural Science Seminar, Behavioural Science Centre, University of Stirling, 14 October 2015.