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Human Capital Formation During the First Industrial Revolution: Evidence from the use of Steam Engines

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  • Alexandra de Pleijt
  • Alessandro Nuvolari
  • Jacob Weisdorf

Abstract

We examine the effect of technical change on human capital formation during England's Industrial Revolution. Using the number of steam engines installed by 1800 as a synthetic indicator of technological change and occupational statistics to measure working skills (using HISCLASS), we establish a positive correlation between the use of steam engines and the share of skilled workers at the county level. We use exogenous variation in carboniferous rock strata (containing coal to fuel the engines) to show that the effect was causal. While technological change stimulated the formation of working skills, it had an overall negative effect on the formation of primary education, captured by literacy and school enrolment rates. It also led to higher gender inequality in literacy.

Suggested Citation

  • Alexandra de Pleijt & Alessandro Nuvolari & Jacob Weisdorf, 2020. "Human Capital Formation During the First Industrial Revolution: Evidence from the use of Steam Engines," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 18(2), pages 829-889.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:jeurec:v:18:y:2020:i:2:p:829-889.
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    Cited by:

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    2. Thomas Keywood & Jörg Baten, 2021. "Elite violence and elite numeracy in Europe from 500 to 1900 CE: roots of the divergence," Cliometrica, Springer;Cliometric Society (Association Francaise de Cliométrie), vol. 15(2), pages 319-389, May.
    3. Adrien Montalbo, 2019. "Education and economic development. The influence of primary schooling on municipalities in nineteenth-century France," PSE Working Papers halshs-02286126, HAL.
    4. Montalbo, Adrien, 2021. "Schools without a law: Primary education in France from the Revolution to the Guizot Law," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 79(C).
    5. Felix Meier zu Selhausen & Marco H. D. van Leeuwen & Jacob L. Weisdorf, 2018. "Social mobility among Christian Africans: evidence from Anglican marriage registers in Uganda, 1895–2011," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 71(4), pages 1291-1321, November.
    6. 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 of BETA 2017-17, Bureau d'Economie Théorique et Appliquée, UDS, Strasbourg.
    7. Claude Diebolt & Charlotte Chapelain & Audrey Rose Menard, 2021. "Neither the elite, nor the mass. The rise of intermediate human capital during the French industrialization process," Cliometrica, Springer;Cliometric Society (Association Francaise de Cliométrie), vol. 15(1), pages 167-202, January.
    8. 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).
    9. Charlotte Bartels & Felix Kersting & Nikolaus Wolf, 2021. "Testing Marx. Income inequality, concentration, and socialism in late 19th century Germany," Working Papers 0211, European Historical Economics Society (EHES).
    10. Tomas Cvrcek & Miroslav Zajicek, 2019. "The rise of public schooling in nineteenth-century Imperial Austria: Who gained and who paid?," Cliometrica, Springer;Cliometric Society (Association Francaise de Cliométrie), vol. 13(3), pages 367-403, September.
    11. Morgan Kelly & Joel Mokyr & Cormac Ó Gráda, 2020. "The Mechanics of the Industrial Revolution," Working Papers 202016, School of Economics, University College Dublin.
    12. 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.
    13. Adrien Montalbo, 2019. "Education and economic development. The influence of primary schooling on municipalities in nineteenth-century France," Working Papers halshs-02286126, HAL.
    14. Stefan Leknes & Jørgen Modalsli, 2018. "Who benefited from industrialization? The local effects of hydropower technology adoption," Discussion Papers 874, Statistics Norway, Research Department.
    15. Emmanuel Bovari & Victor Court, 2019. "Energy, knowledge, and demo-economic development in the long run: a unified growth model," Université Paris1 Panthéon-Sorbonne (Post-Print and Working Papers) hal-01698755, HAL.
    16. Katz‬‏, ‪Ori, 2018. "Railroads, Economic Development, and the Demographic Transition in the United States," MPRA Paper 88869, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    17. Jeremy Atack & Robert A. Margo & Paul W. Rhode, 2019. ""Automation" of Manufacturing in the Late Nineteenth Century: The Hand and Machine Labor Study," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 33(2), pages 51-70, Spring.
    18. Roberto Bonfatti & Björn Brey, 2020. "Trade Disruption, Industrialisation, and the Setting Sun of British Colonial Rule in India," CESifo Working Paper Series 8461, CESifo.
    19. Baten, Jörg & Keywood, Thomas, 2019. "Elite Violence and Elite Numeracy in Europe from 500 to 1900 CE: A Co-Evolution?," CEPR Discussion Papers 14013, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    20. Adrien Montalbo, 2018. "Industrial activities and primary schooling in early nineteenth-century France," Working Papers halshs-01826346, HAL.
    21. Adrien Montalbo, 2018. "Industrial activities and primary schooling in early nineteenth-century France," PSE Working Papers halshs-01826346, HAL.
    22. 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.

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J82 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Labor Standards - - - Labor Force Composition
    • N33 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • O14 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Industrialization; Manufacturing and Service Industries; Choice of Technology
    • O33 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - Technological Change: Choices and Consequences; Diffusion Processes

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