Home-buyers in Glasgow take religion into account when deciding where to buy, according to researchers, who claim the housing market can be used to estimate how integrated areas really are.

The research, carried out at Glasgow, Edinburgh and Sheffield Universities, found that house-buyers are far from blind to the religious make up of different areas within the city.

Instead the religious mix between neighbourhoods which were predominantly Church of Scotland, Roman Catholic, Muslim or non-religious were just as important as more obvious attributes such as neighbourhood house types and sizes.

One of the study's authors said he feared Scotland was becoming increasingly polarised, and the Brexit debate could exacerbate tensions, as it has in parts of the North of England.

Professor Gwilym Price, Professor of Urban Economics & Social Statistics at the University of Sheffield, said

"The religious make up of an area affects whether people consider neighbourhoods to be equivalent. What we found was that prejudices ultimately come out in the wash in terms of housing market decisions.

"In the United States - from where trends often reach us in due course - big neighbourhoods have become increasingly polarised and homogenised."

"It will be interesting to see what the impact of the Brexit debate is on these factors. In parts of England, such as Rotherham, we now see extreme right marches on a regular basis. The Brexit process may affect people's perceptions of neighbourhoods perceived to be similar or different, or it may die down.

Researchers analysed price changes in different parts of Glasgow, looking at areas where prices rose and fell in tandem, suggesting buyers saw them as equally desirable. To their surprise, religion played a statistically significant part, and differences in religion between neighbourhood are just as important in determining whether house prices moved in tandem as other more visible factors such as house type and size.

If the religious make up of an area had zero effect on this process, it would suggest a society that was perfectly integrated, they claim. But this was not what they found.

Instead the study identified ‘hidden’ social boundaries that can exist between communities.

In one instance, ostensibly similar areas north and south of the Forth and Clyde canal near Westerton in the city's desirable Bearsden were comparable with quite different areas, in terms of house price movements.

The study, to be published this week in the journal Urban Studies, was overseen by Aqmen, the Applied Quantitative Methods Network based at the University of Edinburgh.

Professor Gwilym Pryce, Professor of Urban Economics and Social Statistics at the Sheffield Methods Institute and co-author of the study, added: “It is the first time that house price data has been used in this way and offers a completely new method for measuring the degree of social integration in a city or region."

"This is not about people saying 'before I buy a house, I need to know what religion you are'. It is about picking up on subtle social differences which have become associated with particular religious groups, often over long periods of time." This is demonstrated by the fact that whether an area is perceived as Catholic or Protestant is if anything more significant than whether it is seen as Muslim, he said.

The degree to which communities are integrated has become one of the most prominent political themes of our time, researchers argue, and has an important impact,a s shown by US initiatives such as the Moving to Opportunities programme in the USA, which offered poor households the opportunity to relocate to more affluent areas. "The US has been remarkable - they've been willing to do huge experiments with people which we tend to shy away from in the UK. The programme was more successful in areas where people were better integrated - the extent to which neighbourhoods make incomers feel welcome has a massive effect."

The new study demonstrates the pheonomenon which might be described as 'birds of a feather flock together", researchers say, and potentially opens up new avenues of research on the nature and impact of social integration and how it affects issues educational performance, social mobility and health outcomes.