Relative Poverty in Great Britain and the United States, 1979–2017

Robert Joyce, James P. Ziliak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


This paper examines the major changes to the face of poverty in Great Britain over the past few decades, assessing the role of policy, and compares and contrasts this with the patterns seen in the United States, using harmonised household survey data. There are various commonalities between the countries, including a shift in the composition of those in poverty towards working-age households without children, who have not been the focus of policy attention. There are also big differences, with a steadily increasing share of poverty in Great Britain – but a stable share in the United States – found in households with an adult in paid work. This perhaps explains why the anti-poverty focus in Great Britain is now squarely on the plight of working households, while in the United States it is focused on labour force participation among the low skilled – even though, as we show, the United States has, for decades, been accustomed to in-work poverty comprising a significantly higher proportion of overall poverty than in Great Britain.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)485-518
Number of pages34
JournalFiscal Studies
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We gratefully acknowledge financial support from the ESRC through the Centre for the Microeconomic Analysis of Public Policy at IFS (grant number ES/M010147/1). This paper also builds on work funded over a number of years by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. We thank three anonymous reviewers and Hilary Hoynes for helpful comments on an earlier version of the paper. All errors are our own.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Authors. Fiscal Studies published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. on behalf of Institute for Fiscal Studies

Copyright 2020 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • I32
  • I38
  • relative poverty
  • safety net
  • taxes
  • transfers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Accounting
  • Finance
  • Economics and Econometrics


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