Saturday 15 September 2018

An index of neighbourhood advantage from English postcode data

Screenshot from
Densely packed postcodes appear grey: you need to expand the map to see colours
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has a website which provides an ‘index of multiple deprivation’ for every postcode in England.  This is a composite index based on typical income, employment, education, health, crime, housing and living environment for each of 32,844 postcodes in 2015. You can also extract indices for the component factors that contribute to the index, which are explained further here. And there is a fascinating interactive website where you can explore the indices on a map of England.

Researchers have used the index of multiple deprivation as an overall measure of environmental factors that might affect child development, but it has one major drawback. The number that the website gives you is a rank from 1 to 32,844. This means it is not normally distributed, and not easy to interpret. You are also given decile bands, but these are just less precise versions of the ranks – and like ranks, have a rectangular, rather than a normal distribution (with each band containing 10% of the postcodes). If you want to read more about why rectangularly distributed data are problematic, see this earlier blogpost.

I wanted to use this index, but felt it would make sense to convert the ranks into z-scores. This is easily done, as z-scores are simply rescaled proportions. Here’s what you do:

Use the website to convert the postcode to an index of deprivation: in fact, it’s easiest to paste in a list of postcodes and you then get a set of indices for each one, which you can download either as .csv or .xlsx file. The index of multiple deprivation is given in the fifth column.

To illustrate, I put in the street address where I grew up, IG38NP, which corresponds to a multiple deprivation index of 12596.

In Excel, you can just divide the multiple deprivation index by 32844, to get a value of .3835, which you can then convert to a z-score using the NORMSINV function. Or, to do this in one step, if you have your index of multiple deprivation in cell A2, you type

This gives a value of -0.296, which is the corresponding z-score. I suggest calling it the ‘neighbourhood advantage score’ – so it’s clear that a high score is good and a low score is bad.

If you are working in R, you can just use the command:
neighbz = qnorm(deprivation_index/depmax)
where neighbz is the neighbourhood advantage score,  depmax has been assigned to 32844 and deprivation_index is the index of multiple deprivation.

Obviously, I’ve presented simplified commands here, but in either Excel or R it is easy to convert a whole set of postcodes in one go.

It is, of course, important to keep in mind that this is a measure of the neighbourhood a person lives in, and not of the characteristics of the individual. Postcode indicators may be misleading in mixed neighbourhoods, e.g. where gentrification has occurred, so rich and poor live side by side. And the different factors contributing to the index may be dissociated. Nevertheless, I think this index can be useful for providing an indication of whether a sample of individuals is representative of the population of England. In psychology studies, volunteers tend to come from more advantaged backgrounds, and this provides one way to quantify this effect.