Real wages

Real wages show the value of wages adjusted for inflation. Real wages are a guide to how living standards have changed.

For example, if nominal (actual) wages increased 5%, but inflation was 5%. This would mean the purchasing power of your wages had stayed the same. The net effect would be the same as a wage freeze (0% real increase)

However, if wages increase by 2%, and we have an inflation rate of 3%, your real wages is -1%. Prices have risen faster than wages, meaning you are worse off.

For latest wage growth see: wage growth in UK

Inflation and nominal wages UK


  • This graph shows that from 2001 to 2008, wages are growing faster than CPI inflation. Meaning real wages are rising.
  • After 2009, inflation is generally higher than wages, causing negative real wage growth

Regular weekly pay

Source: ONS

UK Inflation


Source: ONS

Real Wages = nominal wages – inflation

These show that we are experiencing a rare period of negative real wage growth.

  • In July 2010, nominal wages are growing by 2.2%, but, we were experiencing CPI inflation of 3.7%
  • Therefore real wages are effectively falling by 1.5%

Consumers are able to buy a smaller selection of goods and services, therefore, there is likely to a squeeze in spending on expensive ‘luxury items’.

Furthermore, UK unemployment has been rising and the number who are economically active have fallen in recent years.

Living standards and real wages

Real wages are not the only factor affecting living standards.

  1. If we had a rise in tax rates, then this would reduce disposable income (after tax income)
  2. If we saw a rise in living costs (e.g. housing costs, transport costs, heating) then this would reduce our discretionary income.(amount left over to spend after meeting essential living costs)


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