DP207 | Unemployment in Interwar Britain: Dole or Doldrums?


Publication Date


JEL Code(s)


Programme Area(s)



Several controversial recent studies seek to explain Britain's high interwar unemployment rate as a consequence of the generosity of her unemployment insurance system. All of these studies are based on macroeconomic time-series data. In contrast, this paper employs a microeconomic cross-section, a sub-sample of some 2,400 adult males drawn from the New Survey of London Life and Labour, conducted between 1928 and 1931. I use this data to analyse the relationship between unemployment benefits and unemployment status. I find a generally positive association between the incidence of unemployment and the estimated benefit/wage ratio, but this relationship is significant only in the case of secondary workers. Survey data suggest that insurance benefits made only a small contribution to interwar unemployment.