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Job tenure and unskilled workers before the Industrial Revolution: St Paul’s Cathedral 1672-1748


  • Paker, Meredith
  • Stephenson, Judy
  • Wallis, Patrick


How were unskilled workers selected and hired in preindustrial labour markets? We exploit records from the rebuilding of St. Paul’s Cathedral, London (1672–1748) to analyze the hiring and employment history of over one thousand general building labourers, the benchmark category of ‘unskilled’ workers in long-run wage series. Despite volatile demand, St. Paul’s created a stable workforce by rewarding the tenure of longstanding workers. More senior workers received more days of work each month, preference when jobs were scarce, and the opportunity to earn additional income. We find the cathedral’s strategy consistent with reducing hiring frictions and turnover costs.

Suggested Citation

  • Paker, Meredith & Stephenson, Judy & Wallis, Patrick, 2022. "Job tenure and unskilled workers before the Industrial Revolution: St Paul’s Cathedral 1672-1748," Economic History Working Papers 115595, London School of Economics and Political Science, Department of Economic History.
  • Handle: RePEc:ehl:wpaper:115595

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    labour markets; construction; unskilled labour; churn; job creation; tenure; early modern; construction workers;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • N33 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • N63 - Economic History - - Manufacturing and Construction - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • N83 - Economic History - - Micro-Business History - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • J21 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Labor Force and Employment, Size, and Structure
    • J22 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Time Allocation and Labor Supply
    • J23 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Labor Demand

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