The North-South divide in England

North and South

  • division into North and South is a simplification
    • there is no uniform North or South
  • Midlands can be disregarded
  • can be extended to include Scotland and Wales
  • special status of London

Historical development

  • Industrial Revolution
    • started in Britain
    • late 18th / early 19th century
    • changed nearly all aspects of life
      • industrialised and modern North, rural and traditional South (19th century)
        • North
          • new employment opportunities -> population increased dramatically
          • economic situation improved
            • but: poor living and working conditions
          • working class emerged
        • South
          • agriculture (low wages)
          • second half of the century: decline in agriculture, rise in service sector
          • middle class
  • early 20th century
    • new industries (e.g. car industry) emerged in the South
    • beginning deindustrialisation in the North
      • narrow range of industries -> structural weakness
    • idea of a North-South divide came into being
  • second half of the 20th century
    • until the 1970’s: economic growth, welfare state
    • the North was still shaped by industrialism
    • deindustrialisation continued
      • globalisation
      • post-industrial society / economy
      • the North could not recover
    • Thatcherism fuelled the development
      • laissez-faire economics
      • non-interventionist policy
      • favoured service sector-economy over the industrial economy of the North
      • the South as the “New Britain”
      • North-South divide was played down
    • new economy developed in the South
      • high technology industry, information technology, telecommunication etc.
    • rapid growth in the service sector in the South, slow growth in the North
      • in total six million new jobs were created from 1975 - 2000
      • today: 77% of the GDP
    • at the end of the century: depressed North, dynamic South

Situation today

  • socio-economic gap between North and South
    • employment opportunities, unemployment rates, average incomes, etc.
    • North-South wealth divide at its highest level for more than 30 years
    • number of people living on the breadline much higher in the North
  • GVA per head (2010)
    • England: £20,974
    • South East: £21,924
    • North East: £15,744
  • unemployment rate (2010, second quarter)
    • England: 7.7%
    • South East: 6.1%
    • North East: 9.4%
  • average income (GDHI per head, 2009)
    • England: £15.545
    • South East: £17.292
    • North East: £13.026
  • the North-South divide is not only an economic divide, but also affects many other areas
  • health (care)
    • significantly worse in the North
    • people in the North drink more alcohol and smoke more
    • obesity is more common in the North
    • life expectancy is lower in the North
    • male life expectancy
      • Manchester: 71.8 years
      • North Dorset: 79.2 years
  • people in the North are, in general, less educated
    • people with a degree tend to move to the South
  • politics
    • North: Labour Party, South: Conservative Party
      • Labour is, however, not a working class-party anymore
    • political disengagement: higher number of non-voters in the North
  • culture, media & stereotypes
    • negative image of the North
      • long tradition: Elizabeth Gaskell: North and South (1855)
    • Northerners: simple-minded, strange accent, rural, dull
    • Southerners: posh, arrogant, unfriendly
  • future perspectives
    • it is unlikely that the divide will disappear in the near future
      • government spending is slowing down
        • less programmes to revitalise the North
        • less jobs in the government sector
      • current economic crisis
      • people form the North move southwards to find work, people from the South move rarely to the North
    • there are some exceptions, though
      Leeds: a “northern success story”
      Liverpool: European Capital of Culture


Carvel, John: “North-south divide widens in health map of England”, The Guardian, 23 Oct. 2007, <>

Carvel, John: “North-south life expectancy gap grows wider”, The Guardian, 16 Oct. 2004, <≥

Day, Elizabeth: “North v South”, The Guardian, 28 Oct. 2007, <>

Dorling, Danny: “The North-South Divide - Where is the line?”, <≥

Howell, Phillip: “Industry and Identiy: 1830-1818”, in: Baker, Alan R., Billinge, Mark (eds): Geographies of England: The North-South Divide, Material and Imagined, 2004, pp. 44-63.

Martin, Ronald L.: “The contemporary debate over the North-South divide”, in: Baker, Alan R., Billinge, Mark (eds): Geographies of England: The North-South Divide, Material and Imagined, 2004, pp. 15-43.

Sammon, Geoff: “The other England: the north-south divide”, 1997.

Warren, Tom: “Life in UK 'has become lonelier'”, BBC News, 01 Dec. 2008, <>

“Regional Gross Disposable Household Income (GDHI) 1995-2009”, Office for National Statistics, 30 Mar. 2011, <≥

“Regional, sub-regional and local Gross Value Added 2010”, Office for National Statistics, 14 Dec. 2011, <≥