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For the sentence fragment:

"...during the later part of the 20th century"

using "latter" sounds better to me:

"...during the latter part of the 20th century"

But most websites I find have later as the option that deals with time, e.g. http://grammar.about.com/od/words/a/latergloss.htm

Which word is more appropriate in this case?

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I'm not sure this counts as general reference. The OP has found (and shows) a reference that seems to indicate one answer but is unsure (or they wouldn't be answering). While the answer that latter is indeed allowed here (and it is, and I'd personally favour it), the explanation as to why when what could be found in general references may lead one to think it is not (considering in particular that implied order and natural order is often not included in general descriptions of how latter works), I think it's worth answering. – Jon Hanna May 30 '13 at 16:14
The site you linked to only discusses later as an adverb, not an adjective. So its advice is obviously quite irrelevant. I suggest you link to a site that actually endorses using later part over latter part. – RegDwigнt May 30 '13 at 16:15
@Jon: latter is not only allowed here, it is indeed preferred, and by an order of magnitude, and on both sides of the pond. The OP himself prefers it, too. So the only thing speaking against that is a single reference, that upon closer examination does not speak against it at all. That is the only issue with the question. If it can be fixed, the question itself is perfectly fine. – RegDwigнt May 30 '13 at 16:24
Not sure how else to phrase my question so it acceptable to you - the only references I find comparing the two all have later for time e.g. gingersoftware.com/grammarbook/adjectives/later-vs-latter (supposedly calling this an adjective). Now, latter does sound better to me, but I don't see WHY that is - later can work here too. Choice of latter vs. later seems like a legitimate question, but if this is too basic and obvious, I will keep googling. – bryan May 30 '13 at 16:28
Wiktionary includes the relevant sense “close (or closer) to the present time.” But given that there's some poor/confusing advice out there, it's not quite general reference. Also, I wonder whether they're strictly synonymous, or whether “latter part” specifically implies “latter half” rather than merely “some recent part.” – Bradd Szonye May 30 '13 at 22:42

"Latter" connotes an informal reckoning... could even start before the half is reached so long as it continues longer into the second half. (From the 40s through the 80s, for example.)

"Later" often implies that it started after the half, and lasted much closer to the end.

Rock and roll, jazz, and techno were music of the latter part of the 20th century. Techno was music of the later part of 20th century.

The distinction is somewhat pedantic, even if useful.

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In my view, neither are completely clear on their own. "...during the latter part of the 20th century" may sound correct, but how large is a "part"? The first part could be one year, and the following part could be the remaining 99. Even worse, "...during the later part of the 20th century" allows even more ambiguity, essentially meaning nothing, and readers will inevitably misread it as 'latter'.

The first phrasing could be useful with some qualification, for example:

"...during the latter part of the 20th century (namely 1948-1997)"

This description would not be redundant if your goal was to talk about the significance of this period of time in the context of a larger history. For example, that might have been a time of economic boom, whereas the former part was one of bust. I'm not sure if 'namely' is the best word to use in that example, though.

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In the sense in which it is used in your sentence above (that is, to mean "closer to the end of something or closer to the end of a time period/process"), you can use either "later" or "latter". Both words essentially mean the same thing in this sense, and are interchangeable. They are synonyms in this sense.

However, it should be noted that these two words are not always interchangeable, depending on the sense in which they are used. Each of these words has another meaning for which you cannot substitute the other. For instance, the word "latter" could also be used to mean the second of two things that have just been mentioned; in this sense, you cannot substitute "later" for "latter". I hope this helps.

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