Economic well-being and British regions: the problem with GDP per capita

Economists and policy-makers often present per capita GDP as by far the most significant indicator of economic well-being. Such measures are frequently adopted in making international comparisons, constructing time-series for particular countries and in studies of regional inequality. In this paper we challenge this view using a regional analysis of 2001 data focusing upon differences between London and the south-eastern regions, in comparison to the rest of Great Britain (GB). Initially GDP per capita is decomposed into the demographic and labour-market factors which generate it. Thereafter we broaden the notion of work-time used in productivity measures to include other necessary work-related activity, namely commuting. This leads to us to construct a new indicator which we call social productivity. Our conclusion is that our decomposition and notion of social productivity are both relevant in comparisons of regional well-being; in addition such methods may be used fruitfully in international and historical contexts.

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