It might not have been a communal effort to develop these you know - credit Bob CallowanCommons/CC-BY-SA-4.0 via Wikipedia

According to George Osborne it’s more of what he did when he had the power to do it:

Today, the Northern Powerhouse Partnership has set out the full impact on businesses across the North of the chaos caused by the recent rail timetabling delays.

Yadda, yadda.

According to someone who actually knows stuff – Greg Clark – we should stop anyone from north of Birmingham from migrating south of it:

The big sort: The decline of northern England, 1780–2018
Gregory Clark, Neil Cummins 29 July 2018

Northern England is now less educated and less productive than the south. This north-south divide is often characterised by policymakers as evidence of market failure. This column uses surname distributions to show that the northern decline can instead be explained by persistent outmigration of talent from the north. People of northern origin perform as well on average as those of southern origin. Talented northerners, however, are now mainly located in the south, where they are an economic elite.

Despite significant regional government aid, the north of England and Wales lag the south in output per person, educational attainment, and other social indicators (e.g. Crafts 2005, Geary and Stark 2015, 2016). Value added per person is more than 40% higher in the south. The fraction of 18 year-olds winning admission to Oxford or Cambridge is double in the south.

Using information on surnames that were northern (including Welsh) or southern in origin in pre-industrial England, in a recent paper we show that the decline of the north is entirely a product of the sorting of migrants by ability into a high-ability south and low-ability north over the last 200 years (Clark and Cummins 2018).

Migrants out of the north have had high abilities, and migrants into the north low abilities. As a consequence, those of northern English origin– as opposed to those still living in the north – show no disadvantage in outcomes at the national level in modern England. The disadvantages observed among those still in the north are completely compensated by the advantages seen among those with northern surnames in the south, where they are an elite.

The policy implication of this finding is that despite poorer social outcomes, those living in northern England and Wales do not face social or economic disadvantages relative to those living in the south. Thus, government expenditures designed to compensate for any perceived northern or Welsh disadvantage represent a misallocation of resources. Nor should universities take any steps to specifically raise enrolment from the north or from Wales.

The lack of national-level disadvantage to those with northern surnames implies moves to encourage more migration to the south, as advocated by Leunig and Swaffield (2008),would also be a mistake. If performance is improved by people moving south, then at the national level the northern surnames which are still concentrated in the north would be disadvantaged with respect to educational status, occupational status, and wealth. They are not.

Thus the concentration of education and talent in the south is not associated with significant external benefits, as would be predicted by the doctrines of the New Economic Geography (e.g. Krugman 1991, Krashinsky 2011). The regional sorting by economic ability within England has not had adverse economic effects at the national level. The poor performance economically and socially of northern England and Wales in recent years does not represent any missed economic or social opportunity.

Evidence for sorting

As an illustration of the claim of no disadvantage from northern origin, Figure 1 shows the ratio of enrolment rates at Oxford and Cambridge by decade between 1800–2016, for northern versus southern surnames. Since the 1930s, northern surnames enrol at as high a rate in Oxford and Cambridge as southern surnames, even though the majority of holders of such surnames reside in the north. There is thus no national disadvantage in educational attainment for northern surnames.

If for students of given ability there was a geographic disadvantage in chances of enrolment in Oxford or Cambridge, then since northern surnames are still concentrated in the north, they would reflect that disadvantage. For registered doctors in the UK there is a similar lack of any disadvantage in registration rates by surname for northern surnames.

Figure 1 Relative Oxbridge admission rates, northern versus southern surnames

Note: shaded band indicates 95% confidence interval.

Figure 2a shows the probate rates 1892–1992 of adults dying in the north of England or the south. These probate rates measure the share of each population dying with significant wealth. As can be seen, probate rates in the north are consistently below those of the south. However, as Figure 2b  shows, probate rates for northern surnames are on average very similar to those for southern surnames between 1892–1992.

The implication again is that northern names suffer no national disadvantage in economic outcomes. Instead northerners in the south must be wealthier than southerners in the south. This is confirmed in Figure 3 which shows estimated mean wealth at death by location at death and surname origin. Northerners dying in the south were significantly wealthier than southerners dying in the south throughout the years 1892–1992.

Figure 2 Probate rates by location and ancestry, 1892–1992

a) North and south

b) Northern and southern ancestral surnames

An illustration that the north has tended to attract less economically successful migrants comes from house values implied by the location of voters of different surname types in the 1999 voter roll. In southern England, those with surnames of southern English origin tended to live in poorer areas than migrants from northern England, Ireland, Scotland, and Pakistan. In contrast, in the north, southern English migrants were not living in wealthier areas than the adversely selected population of northern origin.

Figure 3 Mean wealth at death by location and surname origin, 1892–1992

Note: Those dying in the south with a southern surname set to 1.

Those whose origins trace in part to Ireland, Scotland, or Pakistan were typically living in even poorer areas than the adversely selected northern English population. Thus there was sorting of the economically able to the south both for internal migrants within England and Wales and even more strongly for external migrants to England.

Table 1 House values by region and surname origin, 1999

Note: Average house prices by postal code in 2015.

Policy implications

The economic decline of the north of England and Wales has been regarded by many policymakers as a market failure that requires government intervention to correct. Part of the justification for the huge proposed expenditures of HS2, for example, have been the need to revive the economy of the north.

We show using the evidence of surname origins, however, that the decline of the north is purely a product of regional sorting by economic ability, and not the consequence of any market failure. The northern population, given its characteristics, is doing as well as the equivalent population in the south. There is no regional problem requiring solution in England.

One further implication of our study is that there is no evidence in England for significant human capital externalities, as posited by the New Economic Geography. There is no evidence that the productivity or educational attainment of workers of a given inherent characteristic benefits when that worker is located in the high education south as opposed to the low education north.

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There is a very important factor about regional development I never see mentioned. Companies are started up and run by people, and those people like to live within easy commute of the business. When companies seeking to relocate or expanded be it from within the UK or from abroad, or individuals decide on where to locate their start-up, the first consideration is a social one, what is it like to live round here? Will I, my wife, my kids be happy and safe? What are the people like, what are housing, education, healthcare, leisure facilities like? Managers and owners want… Read more »


A national land value tax would help. Those companies that need to be in the South would cough up for the high value plot. Those that didn’t would economise by moving north. Better economic prospects outside the south would stop or even reverse the flow of talent.
But it would leave the problem of how to fund local government.

Quentin Vole
Quentin Vole

I don’t see how a tax would make any difference, given that land values are already generally higher in the South than in the North.


Concur; a new national tax would never help. Not even if it were one of these Pigou taxes, a tax not designed to raise revenue for government but to set prices wrong so that people do what we want them to do. Not even a Pigou tax devised by the enlightened bloggers on this page, whether to curry favor with the socialists (and the US is evidence you will not win one vote from them) or because you share their central-planning impulses. If there is a problem in the North, we should solve the problem rather than papering over it… Read more »

Quentin Vole
Quentin Vole

Living in the North is a bargain. Practically everything – from beer and chips to theatre-going and housing is around half the price of the South. The trick is to get yourself a job on a national payscale, very few of which fully reflect these differentials.

But it won’t save you from Sharia – Blackburn, Burnley and Bradford are majority Muslim, and that’s just the places beginning with ‘B’.

Rhoda Klapp
Rhoda Klapp

Why exactly do we expect or require the government to ‘fix’ a problem that does not really exist in the form believed? The government? Have you looked at their record of success?


I think Greg Clark has been misrepresented. Like a lot of clever academics he tells us what won’t work based on the evidence – regional investment for example – but doesn’t tell us what we should do. He definitely does not recommend banning migration southwards. Devolving powers to Northern local authorities on everything from energy, planning, minimum wages, prostitution, recreational drugs, standing at football, farm subsidies, hunting with dogs and smoking would be interesting. There was not the concentration of power on the centre when the north was rich. But Clark does not advance such ideas either. He’d rather let… Read more »


This hits the nail on the head.
As British gubmint has got bigger, more powerful and centralised we’ve seen more and more wealth clustered in London and the SE.
I actually think the Scottish independence movement really developed out of centralisation under Clem Attlee onwards so its not just Northern England


Imagine if the mother let the colonials teach her the benefits of federalism (meaning, exactly, decentralization)! Our rebels avoided the concentration of power in many ways: states versus center; executive versus legislature (each deriving its power with a separate popular mandate) with the people even then having recourse to the judiciary; and a strict enumeration of powers (which would not include “standing at football”; this would Constitutionally be left to the club owner). The design was sound (sounder when one house of our legislature was populated by state governments), though we’ve broken a lot. I admire the British your more… Read more »