This old blog post has an interesting plot that demonstrates that the U.K.'s current debt-to-GDP ratio is significantly below its very-long-term (180-year) average.

Is there a plot anywhere that compares the historical debt-to-GDP ratio over long times between countries? Ideally, I would like a single plot that (a) has multiple time series for many different countries (using comparable methodology), to make it easy to compare across countries, and (b) goes back before World War II, in order to show extremely long-term trends. However, a bunch of different separately plotted long-term time series would also be interesting. But a quick search doesn't turn up much that goes back before around 1970.

More broadly, was it common for debt-to-GDP ratios to exceed 1 year before and during the Bretton Woods system? Or was the U.K. unusual in this regard?

Or is it just the case that we don't have any reliable numbers for debt-to-GDP ratios from before the rise of modern econometrics?

  • $\begingroup$ It’s hard to get data on debt to GDP prior WWII because at the time people did not tracked GDP as a statistics so all we have are estimates of what GDP probably was $\endgroup$
    – 1muflon1
    Feb 27, 2020 at 8:24

1 Answer 1


Data for the United States 1789 - 2019.

The IMF has the Historical Public Debt Database. It has data for almost every country with varying starting dates depending on country.

IMF data

From my brief analysis France, Spain, Belgium, and Italy all appear to have exceeded 100% debt to GDP ratios before 1944.


  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Terrific, thanks so much! $\endgroup$
    – tparker
    Jul 11, 2020 at 16:34

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