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Precocious Albion: A New Interpretation of the British Industrial Revolution


  • Morgan Kelly

    (Department of Economics, University College Dublin, Dublin 4, Ireland)

  • Joel Mokyr

    () (Departments of Economics and History, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 60208)

  • Cormac Ó Gráda

    (Department of Economics, University College Dublin, Dublin 4, Ireland)


Many explanations have been offered for the British Industrial Revolution. This article points to the importance of human capital (broadly defined) and the quality of the British labor force on the eve of the Industrial Revolution. It shows that in terms of both physical quality and mechanical skills, British workers around 1750 were at a much higher level than their continental counterparts. As a result, new inventions—no matter where they originated—were adopted earlier, faster, and on a larger scale in Britain than elsewhere. The gap in labor quality is consistent with the higher wages paid in eighteenth-century Britain. The causes for the higher labor quality are explored and found to be associated with a higher level of nutrition and better institutions, especially England’s Poor Law and the superior functioning of its apprenticeship system.

Suggested Citation

  • Morgan Kelly & Joel Mokyr & Cormac Ó Gráda, 2014. "Precocious Albion: A New Interpretation of the British Industrial Revolution," Annual Review of Economics, Annual Reviews, vol. 6(1), pages 363-389, August.
  • Handle: RePEc:anr:reveco:v:6:y:2014:p:363-389

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Blog mentions

    As found by, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. Random thoughts on critiques of Allen’s theory of the Industrial Revolution
      by pseudoerasmus in Pseudoerasmus on 2016-12-02 02:35:02
    2. Labour relations & textiles: addenda
      by pseudoerasmus in Pseudoerasmus on 2017-09-27 05:01:55


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    Cited by:

    1. repec:eee:deveco:v:127:y:2017:i:c:p:339-354 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Ko, Chiu Yu & Koyama, Mark & Sng, Tuan-Hwee, 2014. "Unified China and Divided Europe," CEI Working Paper Series 2014-7, Center for Economic Institutions, Institute of Economic Research, Hitotsubashi University.
    3. 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).
    4. Morgan Kelly & Cormac Ó Gráda, 2016. "Adam Smith, Watch Prices, and the Industrial Revolution," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 131(4), pages 1727-1752.
    5. Feldman, Naomi E. & van der Beek, Karine, 2016. "Skill choice and skill complementarity in eighteenth century England," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 59(C), pages 94-113.
    6. Edwards, Jeremy S. S., 2017. "A replication of "Education and catch-up in the Industrial Revolution" (American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics, 2011)," Economics Discussion Papers 2017-30, Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW).
    7. repec:afc:cliome:v:12:y:2018:i:1:p:99-126 is not listed on IDEAS
    8. repec:eee:exehis:v:67:y:2018:i:c:p:105-133 is not listed on IDEAS
    9. repec:spr:cliomt:v:12:y:2018:i:1:d:10.1007_s11698-016-0156-3 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Morgan Kelly & Cormac Ó Gráda, 2015. "Adam Smith, Watch Prices, and the Industrial Revolution," Working Papers 201505, School of Economics, University College Dublin.

    More about this item


    technological change; economic growth; income distribution; human capital; skills;

    JEL classification:

    • N13 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • N33 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • O30 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - General


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