Golden age

OECD Observer

Click to enlarge.

How far has the OECD economy travelled in the last two hundred years? According to economic historian, Angus Maddison, GDP per capita worldwide has risen more than eightfold since 1820, compared with a fivefold increase in population, though the rate of growth has been uneven by time and by country.

From 1870 to 1913, world capita GDP rose 1.3% per year compared with 0.5% in 1820-70. Two world wars, the collapse of capital flows, migration and trade shattered the old economic order between 1913 and 1950, though by harnessing technological developments – electricity, automobiles, aviation and chemistry, etc. – the United States had become the world leader in terms of productivity and per capita income. The world economy as a whole performed better from 1950 to 2000 than at any time before. Real per capita income rose by 2.1% a year, compared with 0.9% from 1820-1950.

The golden age, from 1950 to 1973, saw a degree of convergence between the US and other advanced capitalist countries (western Europe and Japan) coinciding with a new liberal international order. Indeed, Japan, despite just having emerged from a decade of economic stagnation, has had the fastest growth, its per capita income growth increasing sixfold during the golden age, at 8% per year compared with 4% in western Europe.


Maddison A. (2003), The World Economy – A Millennial Perspective, OECD Development Centre.

©OECD Observer No 243, May 2004

Economic data


Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Suscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To receive your exclusive paper editions delivered to you directly

Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • Read some of the insightful remarks made at OECD Forum 2017, held on 6-7 June. OECD Forum kick-started events with a focus on inclusive growth, digitalisation, and trust, under the overall theme of Bridging Divides.
  • Checking out the job situation with the OECD scoreboard of labour market performances: do you want to know how your country compares with neighbours and competitors on income levels or employment?
  • Trade is an important point of focus in today’s international economy. This video presents facts and statistics from OECD’s most recent publications on this topic.
  • How do the largest community of British expats living in Spain feel about Brexit? Britons living in Orihuela Costa, Alicante give their views.
  • Brexit is taking up Europe's energy and focus, according to OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. Watch video.
  • OECD Chief Economist Catherine Mann and former Bank of England Governor Mervyn King discuss the economic merits of a US border adjustment tax and the outlook for US economic growth.
  • Africa's cities at the forefront of progress: Africa is urbanising at a historically rapid pace coupled with an unprecedented demographic boom. By 2050, about 56% of Africans are expected to live in cities. This poses major policy challenges, but make no mistake: Africa’s cities and towns are engines of progress that, if harnessed correctly, can fuel the entire continent’s sustainable development.
  • OECD Observer i-Sheet Series: OECD Observer i-Sheets are smart contents pages on major issues and events. Use them to find current or recent articles, video, books and working papers. To browse on paper and read on line, or simply download.
  • How sustainable is the ocean as a source of economic development? The Ocean Economy in 2030 examines the risks and uncertainties surrounding the future development of ocean industries, the innovations required in science and technology to support their progress, their potential contribution to green growth and some of the implications for ocean management.
  • The OECD Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. The gender portal monitors the progress made by governments to promote gender equality in both OECD and non-OECD countries and provides good practices based on analytical tools and reliable data.
  • They are green and local --It’s a new generation of entrepreneurs in Kenya with big dreams of sustainable energy and the drive to see their innovative technologies throughout Africa.
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at .

Most Popular Articles

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2017