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Human Capital and Productivity in Manufacturing during the Twentieth Century: Britain, Germany and the United States


  • Broadberry, Stephen N
  • Wagner, Karin


In this paper we relate trends in the accumulation of human capital in Britain, Germany and the United States to overall production strategy and productivity trends. In the United States a strategy of standardized mass production led to high levels of labour productivity and concentration on the development of managerial capabilities, but neglect of the skills of the shop-floor labour force, while in Britain and Germany concentration on craft production led to greater emphasis on shop-floor skills. After the Second World War, however, British firms made an unsuccessful move towards standardized mass production. Since shop-floor skills were neglected, British firms were left in a weak position to take advantage of the recent switch of technological leadership away from American mass production methods to German modern craft production or `flexible production' methods, intensive in the use of skilled shop-floor labour within a small batch industrial environment. British manufacturing also adopted an American style `mission oriented' approach to R&D in contrast to the German style `diffusion oriented' approach, which helped to reinforce the move away from craft production. Since the 1980s, Britain has returned to a more skilled labour intensive strategy but still has a large skills gap to make good.

Suggested Citation

  • Broadberry, Stephen N & Wagner, Karin, 1994. "Human Capital and Productivity in Manufacturing during the Twentieth Century: Britain, Germany and the United States," CEPR Discussion Papers 1036, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  • Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:1036

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    Cited by:

    1. David Card & Richard B. Freeman, 2004. "What Have Two Decades of British Economic Reform Delivered?," NBER Chapters,in: Seeking a Premier Economy: The Economic Effects of British Economic Reforms, 1980-2000, pages 9-62 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Paul A. David & Gavin Wright, "undated". "General Purpose Technologies and Surges in Productivity: Historical Reflections on the Future of the ICT Revolution," Working Papers 99026, Stanford University, Department of Economics.
    3. Sorensen, Anders, 1999. "R&D, Learning, and Phases of Economic Growth," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 4(4), pages 429-445, December.
    4. Howard Gospel, 1997. "The Revival of Apprenticeship Training in Britain," CEP Discussion Papers dp0372, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
    5. Greasley, David & Oxley, Les, 1998. "Comparing British and American Economic and Industrial Performance 1860-1993: A Time Series Perspective," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 35(2), pages 171-195, April.
    6. Karin Wanger, 2005. "Productivity and Skills in Industry and Services-A Britian-German Comparison," The Pakistan Development Review, Pakistan Institute of Development Economics, vol. 44(4), pages 411-438.

    More about this item


    Human Capital; Manufacturing; Productivity;

    JEL classification:

    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • N30 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - General, International, or Comparative
    • N60 - Economic History - - Manufacturing and Construction - - - General, International, or Comparative
    • O52 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economywide Country Studies - - - Europe


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