Boys born in London's Chelsea can expect to live nearly nine years longer than those born in Blackpool.
Opportunities are limited for those stuck in the wrong place, and the wider economy suffers.
If all its citizens had lived in places of high productivity over the past 50 years, America's economy could have grown twice as fast as it did.
Divergence is the result of big forces.
In the modern economy scale is increasingly important.
The companies with the biggest hoards of data can train their machines most effectively; the social network that everyone else is on is most attractive to new users; the stock exchange with the deepest pool of investors is best for raising capital.
These returns to scale create fewer, superstar firms clustered in fewer, superstar places.
Everywhere else is left behind.
Even as regional disparities widen, people are becoming less mobile.
The percentage of Americans who move across state lines each year has fallen by half since the 1990s.
The typical American is more footloose than the average European, yet lives less than 30 kilometres from his parents.
Demographic shifts help explain this, including the rise in two-earn-er households and the need to care for ageing family members.
But the bigger culprit is poor policies.
Soaring housing costs in prosperous cities keep newcomers out.
In Europe a scarcity of social housing leads people to hang on to cheap flats.
In America the spread of state-specific occupational licensing and government benefits punishes those who move.
The pension of a teacher who stays in the same state could be twice as big as that of a teacher who moves mid-career.