Ruth Glass was born in Berlin but left Nazi Germany, arriving in London in the mid-1930s. She resumed her studies at the London School of Economics, and had established herself as a noted social scientist of urban life by the end of the decade.
During the 1940s Glass turned to urban planning and development, and joined University College London in 1950 where she remained for the rest of her academic career. It was in the following year that she founded UCL's Centre for Urban Studies and was a long-serving director of research. During the 1950s and 60s, Glass' work focused on metropolitan housing.
In one of her most influential books, London: Aspects of Change, she coined the term 'gentrification' to describe the movement and outcomes of demographic shifts within urban environments. She later turned to the study of immigration and its consequences.
Glass' book Newcomers: The West Indians in London (1960) offered a sharp criticism of racial discrimination as corrosive of social dignity and cohesion. At UCL she established postgraduate courses on urbanization in the developing world, and travelled frequently to India for her research.