The Economic History Review

What happened to regional inequality in Britain in the twentieth century?

Volume 69 Issue 1
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Pages: 215-228Authors: Tom Stark, Frank Geary
Published online: June 15, 2015DOI: 10.1111/ehr.12114

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New estimates of regional GDP for Great Britain in the twentieth century differ from those of Crafts but confirm his hypothesis of a U-shaped regional inequality curve between 1911 and 2001. Comparison of these estimates with revised estimates for 1861-1911 suggests that the decline in inequality in the first half of the twentieth century forms part of a trend of declining regional inequality and catch-up of the poorer regions with the richest (the South East) dating back to the 1860s at least. This convergence trend was interrupted by the First World War and the subsequent difficulties of Outer Britain in the 1920s when the gap between the South East and the rest widened. However, sometime after 1931 it picked up again. Since 1971 inequality has worsened and catch-up has stopped; indeed, there has been divergence of the South East from the rest. This divergence has been especially marked since 1991. Although growth for all regions was faster during the period of increasing regional inequality that encompasses the second half of the twentieth century, the golden age of economic growth for regions outside the South East occurred during the long boom following the Second World War.