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Piece rates and learning: understanding work and production in the New England textile industry a century ago

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  • Leunig, Tim

Abstract

New data on individual worker’s outputs show that New England ring spinners exhibited substantial on the job learning c. 1905. Despite this, variable capital-labour ratios meant high labour turnover reduced aggregate labour productivity only fractionally. The combination of variable capital-labour ratios and piece rates meant low average experience levels did not raise unit costs. This made firms willing to hire all comers, so immigrants readily found work. Equally firms were indifferent to labour turnover, so female workers could move between home and market work. As such piece rates were as an appropriate and successful labour market institution for this period.

Suggested Citation

  • Leunig, Tim, 2003. "Piece rates and learning: understanding work and production in the New England textile industry a century ago," Economic History Working Papers 22360, London School of Economics and Political Science, Department of Economic History.
  • Handle: RePEc:ehl:wpaper:22360
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    File URL: http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/22360/
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Nickless, Pamela J., 1979. "A New Look at Productivity in the New England Cotton Textile Industry, 1830–1860," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 39(04), pages 889-910, December.
    2. Bessen, James, 2003. "Technology and Learning by Factory Workers: The Stretch-Out at Lowell, 1842," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 63(01), pages 33-64, March.
    3. Gary R. Saxonhouse, 1977. "Productivity Change and Labor Absorption in Japanese Cotton Spinning 1891–1935," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 91(2), pages 195-219.
    4. Kenneth J. Arrow, 1962. "The Economic Implications of Learning by Doing," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 29(3), pages 155-173.
    5. Lazonick, William & Brush, Thomas, 1985. "The horndal effect in early U.S. manufacturing," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 22(1), pages 53-96, January.
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    Blog mentions

    As found by EconAcademics.org, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. Labour repression & the Indo-Japanese divergence
      by pseudoerasmus in Pseudoerasmus on 2017-10-02 06:04:55

    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. James Bessen, 2009. "More Machines, Better Machines...Or Better Workers?," Working Papers 0803, Research on Innovation.
    2. Joel Mokyr & Hans-Joachim Voth, 2012. "Understanding Growth in Europe, 1700–1870: Theory and Evidence," Journal of Economic Sociology, National Research University Higher School of Economics, vol. 13(5), pages 57-102.
    3. Domenech, Jordi, 2005. "Labour market adjustment to economic downturns in the Catalan textile industry, 1880-1910: did employers breach implicit contracts?," Economic History Working Papers 22333, London School of Economics and Political Science, Department of Economic History.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • N0 - Economic History - - General
    • L6 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Manufacturing
    • O51 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economywide Country Studies - - - U.S.; Canada
    • R14 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - General Regional Economics - - - Land Use Patterns
    • J01 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - General - - - Labor Economics: General
    • B1 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought through 1925

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