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Piece rates and learning: understanding work and production in the New England textile industry a century ago

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  • Tim Leunig

Abstract

New data on individual worker’s outputs show that New England ring spinners exhibited substantial on the job learning c. 1905. Despite this, variable capital-labour ratios meant high labour turnover reduced aggregate labour productivity only fractionally. The combination of variable capital-labour ratios and piece rates meant low average experience levels did not raise unit costs. This made firms willing to hire all comers, so immigrants readily found work. Equally firms were indifferent to labour turnover, so female workers could move between home and market work. As such piece rates were as an appropriate and successful labour market institution for this period.

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File URL: http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/22360/
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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by London School of Economics and Political Science, Department of Economic History in its series Economic History Working Papers with number 22360.

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Length: 38 pages
Date of creation: Mar 2003
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:ehl:wpaper:22360

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Postal: LSE, Dept. of Economic History Houghton Street London, WC2A 2AE, U.K.
Phone: +44 (0) 20 7955 7084
Web page: http://www.lse.ac.uk/economicHistory/
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  1. Nickless, Pamela J., 1979. "A New Look at Productivity in the New England Cotton Textile Industry, 1830–1860," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 39(04), pages 889-910, December.
  2. Lazonick, William & Brush, Thomas, 1985. "The horndal effect in early U.S. manufacturing," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 22(1), pages 53-96, January.
  3. Saxonhouse, Gary R, 1977. "Productivity Change and Labor Absorption in Japanese Cotton Spinning, 1891-1935," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 91(2), pages 195-219, May.
  4. Bessen, James, 2003. "Technology and Learning by Factory Workers: The Stretch-Out at Lowell, 1842," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 63(01), pages 33-64, March.
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Cited by:
  1. Jordi Domenech, 2005. "Labour market adjustment to economic downturns in the Catalan textile industry, 1880-1910: did employers breach implicit contracts?," Economic History Working Papers 22333, London School of Economics and Political Science, Department of Economic History.
  2. Joel Mokyr & Hans-Joachim Voth, 2006. "Understanding Growth in Europe, 1700-1870: Theory and Evidence," DEGIT Conference Papers c011_002, DEGIT, Dynamics, Economic Growth, and International Trade.
  3. James Bessen, 2009. "More Machines, Better Machines...Or Better Workers?," Working Papers 0803, Research on Innovation.

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