In the last quarter of 2006, employment in the UK reached a record high of over 29 million. But it is important to consider the quality of the new jobs that have been created, as well as their number. Although the average quality of jobs in the UK has increased overall, recent evidence suggests that polarisation of employment has emerged in Britain in recent decades - there has been a growth in the number of high-paid and low-paid jobs relative to middle-ranking occupations. This paper examines the geographical pattern of employment polarisation across the British regions - and is the first piece of empirical research to look at this specific issue.

The paper reviews the different methodological approaches to, and the existing evidence on, job polarisation. Several US studies on this topic have found substantial evidence for increased employment polarisation in the US between the mid-1970s and the 1990s. There is evidence of increased employment polarisation in Britain in the period 1975 to 1999 across different occupations and industries. Using regression techniques they identify a 'U-shaped' relationship between employment growth and job quality (measured by pay): that is, greater employment growth in high-paid and low-paid jobs accompanied by relative shrinkage in employment in middle-paid jobs.