July 2003

IZA DP No. 830: Emigration from the UK, 1870-1913 and 1950-1998

published in: European Review of Economic History, 2004, 8 (2), 149-171

The international labour market has not been ‘globalised’ to the same degree over the last 40 years as have international markets for goods and capital. Immigration policies in developed economies clearly hinder the mobility of labour. But how much difference does it actually make? This paper compares emigration from Britain to four principal destinations in the era of free migration before 1914 with emigration to the same places since the 1960s. As the doors were kept open to British emigrants for longer than most, the ‘deglobalisation’ of British labour only dates from the 1960s. Since that time there has been a secular fall in British emigration, and this has been a major component in the transformation of the UK from a country of net emigration to one of net immigration. Before 1914 the economic and demographic forces that drove British emigration can be clearly identified. The same effects, applied to the later period, suggest that mass emigration from Britain should have continued until the early 1990s. But from the mid 1960s these influences became less powerful as they were increasingly inhibited by immigration policies in the principal destination countries. The decline in emigration is largely accounted for by shifts in policy, especially those that curtailed or abolished the preferences previously extended to settlers from the UK.