STUDY OBJECTIVE--To examine the hypothesis of sustained and persistent inequalities in health between British regions and to ask how far they are a consequence of using standardised mortality ratios as the tool of measurement. DESIGN, SETTING AND PARTICIPANTS--Data are regional, age specific death rates at seven points in time from 1931 to 1987-89 for the British regions, reconstructed to make them comparable with the 1981 regional definitions. Log variance is used to measure inequality; regional rankings are also used. MEASUREMENTS AND MAIN RESULTS--There has been a substantial convergence in age specific death rates between regions in younger but not in older age groups. In younger age groups the historic north/south gradient has disappeared; it persists in older groups. CONCLUSIONS--Use of standardised mortality ratios obscures differences in the convergence rates of age specific death rates between regions. Simple conclusions about the persistence of a north/south divide are not justified. Different processes of change seem to be at work in different age groups.