Socio-Political Consequences of Regional Economic Divergence in Britain: 1983-2018

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On the 28th of April, City-REDI held an external seminar featuring Professor Stephen Fisher from Trinity College, University of Oxford – (with Martha Kirby and Eilidh Macfarlane).

Socio-political consequences of regional economic divergence in Britain: 1983-2018


Regions and nations of Britain have become still more economically divided in recent decades. This is sometimes supposed to have led to misery, distrust and political alienation in poorer regions, which might accordingly have developed more left-wing, pro-welfare and authoritarian attitudes.

This paper assesses the extent to which social and political attitudes in different regions and nations of Britain have indeed become more polarised, in line with regional economic divergence. Our analysis is primarily based on the British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey series, which started in 1983.

Keeping Scotland separate, within England and Wales we find broad North-South regional economic divergence, especially with respect to London, but surprisingly little sign of the corresponding divergence on a wide variety of social and political attitudinal measures, including happiness, interpersonal trust, political trust, political engagement, economic values, liberal values and party support. There have been only slight tendencies for worsening self-reported health outcomes and greater political alienation in the North relative to the South, but also some convergence on economic left-right attitudes and party support.

One possible reason for the absence of much North-South socio-political divergence is that greater prosperity in the South may have been a mixed blessing, as greater income growth has been accompanied by intra-regional inequality and higher cost of living. While there has been remarkably little change in broad North-South socio-political divides over the past forty years, in various respects both London and Scotland have followed distinct trajectories.

Summary of the event
  • It is known that there is a gap between North and South but is still unclear the socio-political consequences of regional economic divergence.
  • Key questions of this research are:
    • Has North-South income and wealth divergence led to divergence on well-being, political alienation and political values?
    • Has the narrowing unemployment gap done the opposite?
    • Has faster-rising inequality within the South, especially London, worsened outcomes there?
  • Using British Social Attitudes (BSA) 1983-2018 and Health Survey for England with a limited sample size within regions, following further post-stratify to regional age*education, interpolate missing data, and five-year moving averages except for sparse series.
  • The research has findings in two areas: Socio-political trends and the role of internal migration
  • Regarding Socio-political trends, North-South gaps remarkably modest and changes are modest and often in the opposite direction to traditional theories of income effects
  • About the role of internal migration, the study found that people move more to richer places, especially young adults with high human capital
  • In conclusion, the major regional economic divergence has not brought corresponding substantial divergence on wellbeing, political alienation or social values. The internal migration, especially of liberal young graduates, can help explain how London has become more Liberal and pro-European.

If you would like a copy of the slides please get in touch.

Upcoming City-REDI Seminars:
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Dr Rhiannon Pugh CIRCLE, Lund University, Sweden The changing roles of universities during the Covid crisis Book a place
Beatriz Jambrina Canseco, PhD LSE, UK The stories we tell ourselves: Local newspaper reporting and support for the radical right Book a place

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