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England is suffering from an internal brain drain – and it’s centuries old

In recent years London has been a magnet for graduates. As the Centre for Cities’ report The Great British Brain Drain showed, the capital was particularly attractive to the highest achieving graduates.

But a recent paper shows that far from being a recent phenomenon, this migration of higher skilled people south has been going on for centuries Gregory Clark (University of California, Davis) and Neil Cummins (London School of Economics) tracked rare ancestral names (e.g. northern surnames such as AinscoughBirtwistle, and Calderbank, and southern names such as Northcott and Vanstone) across the entire population from 1837-1973. By matching the data with the detailed genealogy of 78,000 people with such names, they were able to look at the skills, migration patterns, and life outcomes of people in England since 1800.

Strikingly, the research found that the flow of skilled people southwards is centuries old, with four particularly interesting results:

  • Northern surnames are much more likely to move south than the reverse, with 40 per cent of northern surnames located outside the North by the 1970s, compared to just over 10 per cent of southern surnames.
  • These northern migrants were then much wealthier at death across 1892-1980 than those who stayed home.
  • Wealthier northerners were more likely to move south – 36 per cent of people from affluent northern families in the sample moved south from 1780-1929 (compared to less than 20 per cent of people from either average or poor families).
  • Accounting for wealth, northern migrants were still more likely to be higher skilled, have more years in education and have been more likely to go to university than either southerners or northerners that stayed put.
  • As the UK economy continues to specialise in ever more knowledge-based activities, skills relevant to these sectors are likely to become ever more important. This means that the ability of the north to retain skilled workers, and reverse what is a centuries’ old pattern, will be important to its future economic performance.

Of course, the availability of high skilled jobs will be a crucial determinant of this. If the government’s industrial strategy is to address the lack of high skilled jobs in the north, then it needs to address the barriers that hinder the ability of the region generally, and its cities specifically, to attract such activity.

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In our recent briefing Why don’t we see growth up and down the country? we set out the central role ‘place’ plays in attracting business investment, and show what barriers the industrial strategy needs to address. This is part of a series of briefings looking at the issues the government should tackle in the strategy in order to boost growth in cities, from using clusters policy to encourage innovation, to evaluating the impact of public sector relocations on local economies.

Anthony Breach is an economic analyst at the Centre for Cities, on whose blog this post first appeared. 


 


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