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Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Geographic/Demographic Divide in England

This week's Economist follows up on the stories emanating from the recent release of data from the 2011 census in the UK. In particular, the numbers reveal that the north of England is increasingly less prosperous than the south of the country and is "becoming another country."
The north’s industrial economy had begun to crumble after the first world war; subsequent wars and government policy slowed the decline, but could not stop it. Between 1918 and 1962 the proportion of the population living in England’s three northern regions (the North East, North West and Yorkshire and the Humber) declined from 35% to 30%, reversing the northward migration of the 19th century. In the 50 years since it has declined to 25%.
Like most things, of course, this situation is complicated.
As Danny Dorling of the University of Sheffield puts it, the difference is that, in the north, there are “islands of affluence in a sea of poverty”. In the south, the sea is of affluence. And the contrast is growing. For much of the past 20 years growth in the British economy has come from two sectors: government spending, primarily on health care and education, and the private service sector. The north has benefited only from the first, and it is ebbing.
One of the bright spots of the north discussed in the article is York, a city with a history going back to Roman times, but a key part of the industrial revolution as a former railroad town and for a century the home of the famous chocolate orange production in the world. But I was just in York last week and the railroads are far less important now and chocolate orange production has gone off to Poland. However, the city has reinvented itself into a tourist mecca and service center. A city with 2,000 years of history and bold civic leadership can do that, but most places in England's north are not in that position.


  1. The situation within the U.K. is reflective of the global trend. Old indusrtial cities are poorer and are being depopulated. The migration is susually done from places with less jobs to places with more economic opportunities. Tis is true globally (from South to North), Regionally (I.E.,from Mexico to the U.S.), and locally (from rural areas to the cities). I think that the City of York is doing well. Cities in the rust belt of the U.S. could also follow the same example by shifting their economies to a more service oriented one.

  2. Much like the industrial centers of America, England is now going through a postindustrial meltdown associate with the global financial crisis. Many blue-collar workers are being laid off and business is being shipped to other countries that can produce the same goods at a lower price. Railroads are no longer a main source of transportation and thus many of the industrial areas in northern England are becoming less and less important. As lifestyle changes and living standards increase people move away from these areas into the suburbs much like the changes in Detroit and Cleveland. Cities in the north could regain their economic loss by reinventing themselves into other centers of innovation.