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Human capital formation from occupations: the ‘deskilling hypothesis’ revisited

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  • Alexandra M. de Pleijt

    () (University of Utrecht, Utrecht, The Netherlands & London School of Economics and Political Science, London, UK)

  • Jacob L. Weisdorf

    (University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark & CEPR, London, UK)

Abstract

We use HISCLASS to code the occupational titles of over 30,000 English male workers according to the skill content of their work. We then track the evolution of the sampled working skills across three centuries of English history, from 1550 to 1850. We observe a modest rise in the share of ‘high-quality workmen’ deemed necessary by Mokyr and others to facilitate the Industrial Revolution, including machine erectors and operators. But we also find remarkable growth in the share of unskilled workers, rising from 20 % in the late sixteenth century to nearly 40 % in the early nineteenth century, caused mainly by falling shares of semi-skilled, blue-collar workers. Close inspection of the occupational structures within the main sectors of production suggests that deskilling occurred in agriculture and industry alike, prompted by land concentration in agriculture and workshop-to-factory changes in industry.

Suggested Citation

  • Alexandra M. de Pleijt & Jacob L. Weisdorf, 2017. "Human capital formation from occupations: the ‘deskilling hypothesis’ revisited," Cliometrica, Journal of Historical Economics and Econometric History, Association Française de Cliométrie (AFC), vol. 11(1), pages 1-30, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:afc:cliome:v:11:y:2017:i:1:p:1-30
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    File URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11698-016-0140-y
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Gregory Clark, 2005. "The Condition of the Working Class in England, 1209-2004," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 113(6), pages 1307-1340, December.
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    7. Boberg-Fazlic, Nina & Sharp, Paul & Weisdorf, Jacob, 2011. "Survival of the richest? Social status, fertility and social mobility in England 1541-1824," European Review of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 15(03), pages 365-392, December.
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    9. Nuvolari, A., 2000. "The 'machine breakers' and the industrial revolution," Working Papers 00.11, Eindhoven Center for Innovation Studies.
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    Cited by:

    1. de Pleijt, Alexandra M., 2015. "Human capital and long run economic growth : Evidence from the stock of human capital in England, 1300-1900," CAGE Online Working Paper Series 229, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).
    2. Kevin H. O’Rourke & Ahmed S. Rahman & Alan M. Taylor, 2012. "Trade, Technology and the Great Divergence," Departmental Working Papers 35, United States Naval Academy Department of Economics.
    3. Claude Diebolt & Charlotte Le Chapelain & Audrey Rose Menard, 2019. "Neither the elite, nor the mass. The rise of intermediate human capital during the French industrialization process," Working Papers of BETA 2019-07, Bureau d'Economie Théorique et Appliquée, UDS, Strasbourg.
    4. Meier zu Selhausen, Felix P. & van Leeuwen, Marco H.D. & Weisdorf, Jacob L., 2015. "Social Mobility among Christian Africans: Evidence from Ugandan Marriage Registers 1895-2011," CAGE Online Working Paper Series 239, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).
    5. Monica Bozzano & Gabriele Cappelli, 2019. "The legacy of history or the outcome of reforms? Primary education and literacy in Liberal Italy (1871-1911)," Department of Economics University of Siena 801, Department of Economics, University of Siena.
    6. Claude Diebolt & Charlotte Le Chapelain & Audrey Rose Menard, 2018. "Learning outside the factory: the impact of technological change on the rise of adult education in nineteenth-century France," Working Papers 02-18, Association Française de Cliométrie (AFC).
    7. repec:afc:cliome:v:12:y:2018:i:1:p:99-126 is not listed on IDEAS
    8. Adrien Montalbo, 2018. "Industrial activities and primary schooling in early nineteenth-century France," PSE Working Papers halshs-01826346, HAL.
    9. Begoña Álvarez & Fernando Ramos Palencia, 2016. "The role of human capital in pre-industrial societies: Skills and earnings in eighteenth-century Castile (Spain)," Working Papers 16.03, Universidad Pablo de Olavide, Department of Economics, Quantitative Methods and Economic History.
    10. Baten, Jörg & de Pleijt, Alexandra, 2018. "Female autonomy generates superstars in long-term development: Evidence from 15th to 19th century Europe," CEPR Discussion Papers 13348, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    11. repec:spr:cliomt:v:12:y:2018:i:1:d:10.1007_s11698-016-0156-3 is not listed on IDEAS
    12. Kevin O’Rourke & Ahmed Rahman & Alan Taylor, 2013. "Luddites, the industrial revolution, and the demographic transition," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 18(4), pages 373-409, December.
    13. Philips, Robin C. M. & Földvàri, Péter & Van Leeuwen, Bas, 2017. "Drivers of industrialisation: intersectoral evidence from the Low Countries in the nineteenth century," MPRA Paper 83304, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    14. Pleijt, Alexandra M. de & Nuvolari, Alessandro & Weisdorf, Jacob, 2016. "Human Capital Formation during the First Industrial Revolution: Evidence from the Use of Steam Engines," CAGE Online Working Paper Series 294, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).
    15. repec:gam:jscscx:v:8:y:2019:i:2:p:37-:d:201238 is not listed on IDEAS
    16. Claude Diebolt & Charlotte Le Chapelain & Audrey-Rose Menard, 2017. "Industrialization as a Deskilling Process? Steam Engines and Human Capital in XIXth Century France," Working Papers 07-17, Association Française de Cliométrie (AFC).
    17. Èric Gómez-i-Aznar, 2019. "Human capital at the beginnings of the 18th century Catalonia: age-heaping and numeracy in a changing economy," Documentos de Trabajo (DT-AEHE) 1904, Asociacion Espa–ola de Historia Economica.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Deskilling; HISCLASS; Human capital; Industrial Revolution; Occupations;

    JEL classification:

    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • N33 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • O10 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - General

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