The Economic History Review

Sterling’s farewell symphony: The end of the Sterling Area revisited

Volume 76 Issue 2
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Pages: 415-444Authors: Alan de Bromhead, David Jordan, Francis Kennedy, Jack Seddon
Published online: July 15, 2022DOI: 10.1111/ehr.13175

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When and why did Sterling Area countries stop holding sterling as the majority of their foreign exchange reserves? This paper takes a comparative approach to examine the relative importance of various determinants of adherence to sterling in its declining years as an international currency. Using an original cross-national panel dataset covering the period 1965–79, we conduct survival analysis which systematically evaluates a comprehensive set of economic and political factors, at the country level as well as in international relations, about when and why countries chose to diversify their reserves away from sterling. Our results highlight the significance of international transactional factors in influencing adherence to sterling, while the effects of British geopolitical retrenchment, Commonwealth cultural ties, and distributional issues were more ambiguous and sensitive to local conditions. We also find that domestic political and historical factors, such as democracy and imperial legacy, played a role in sterling’s international unravelling. Finally, we use our results to examine the experience of individual sterling countries and their decisions to diversify.