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Was there an ‘Industrious Revolution’ before the Industrial Revolution? An Empirical Exercise for England, c. 1300-1830


  • Robert C. Allen

    (Nuffield College, University of Oxford)

  • Jacob Louis Weisdorf

    (Department of Economics, University of Copenhagen)


It is conventionally assumed that the pre-modern working year was fixed and that consumption varied with changes in wages and prices. This is challenged by the twin theories of the ‘industrious’ revolution and the consumer revolution, positing a longer working year as people earned surplus money to buy novel goods. In this study, we turn the conventional view on its head, fixing consumption rather than labour input. Specifically, we use a basket of basic consumption goods and compute the working year of rural and urban day labourers required to achieve that. By comparing with independent estimates of the actual working year, we find two ‘industrious’ revolutions among rural workers; both, however, are attributable to economic hardship, and we detect no signs of a consumer revolution. For urban labourers, by contrast, a growing gap between their actual working year and the work required to buy the basket provides great scope for a consumer revolution.

Suggested Citation

  • Robert C. Allen & Jacob Louis Weisdorf, 2010. "Was there an ‘Industrious Revolution’ before the Industrial Revolution? An Empirical Exercise for England, c. 1300-1830," Discussion Papers 10-14, University of Copenhagen. Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:kud:kuiedp:1014

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Allen, Robert C., 2009. "The Industrial Revolution in Miniature: The Spinning Jenny in Britain, France, and India," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 69(04), pages 901-927, December.
    2. Gragnolati, Ugo & Moschella, Daniele & Pugliese, Emanuele, 2011. "The Spinning Jenny and the Industrial Revolution: A Reappraisal," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 71(02), pages 455-460, June.
    3. Allen, Robert C., 2001. "The Great Divergence in European Wages and Prices from the Middle Ages to the First World War," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 38(4), pages 411-447, October.
    4. R. C. Allen & J. L. Weisdorf, 2011. "Was there an ‘industrious revolution’ before the industrial revolution? An empirical exercise for England, c. 1300–1830," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 64(3), pages 715-729, August.
    5. C. Knick Harley, 1998. "Cotton Textile Prices and the Industrial Revolution," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 51(1), pages 49-83, February.
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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


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    Cited by:

    1. Jakob Brochner Madsen, 2016. "Human Accomplishment and Growth in Britain since 1270: The Role of Great Scientists and Education," Monash Economics Working Papers 01-16, Monash University, Department of Economics.
    2. Koyama, Mark, 2012. "The transformation of labor supply in the pre-industrial world," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 81(2), pages 505-523.
    3. Prados de la Escosura, Leandro, 2013. "Human development in Africa: A long-run perspective," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 50(2), pages 179-204.
    4. Erdkamp, Paul, 2016. "Economic growth in the Roman Mediterranean world: An early good-bye to Malthus?," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 60(C), pages 1-20.
    5. repec:kap:jecgro:v:22:y:2017:i:3:d:10.1007_s10887-017-9145-z is not listed on IDEAS
    6. Andrés Calderón-Fernández & Héctor García-Montero & Enrique Llopis-Agelán, 2017. "New research guidelines for living standards, consumer baskets, and prices in Madrid and Mexico," Working Papers 097, "Carlo F. Dondena" Centre for Research on Social Dynamics (DONDENA), Università Commerciale Luigi Bocconi.
    7. Broadberry, Stephen, 2013. "Accounting for the great divergence," Economic History Working Papers 54573, London School of Economics and Political Science, Department of Economic History.
    8. Leandro Prados de la Escosura, 2012. "Output Per Head In Pre-Independence Africa: Quantitative Conjectures," Economic History of Developing Regions, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 27(2), pages 1-36, December.
    9. Schneider, Eric B., 2013. "Real wages and the family: Adjusting real wages to changing demography in pre-modern England," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 50(1), pages 99-115.
    10. R. C. Allen & J. L. Weisdorf, 2011. "Was there an ‘industrious revolution’ before the industrial revolution? An empirical exercise for England, c. 1300–1830," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 64(3), pages 715-729, August.
    11. Mauro Rota & Luca Spinesi, 2013. "At the Onset of the original capital accumulation," Departmental Working Papers of Economics - University 'Roma Tre' 0179, Department of Economics - University Roma Tre.
    12. Leonardo Ridolfi, 2017. "L'histoire immobile? Six centuries of real wages in France from Louis IX to Napoleon III: 1250-1860," LEM Papers Series 2017/14, Laboratory of Economics and Management (LEM), Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies, Pisa, Italy.
    13. Humphries, Jane & Weisdorf, Jacob, 2017. "Unreal Wages? Real Income and Economic Growth in England, 1260-1850," CEPR Discussion Papers 11999, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    14. Paul R. Sharp & Jacob L. Weisdorf, 2012. "French revolution or industrial revolution? A note on the contrasting experiences of England and France up to 1800," Cliometrica, Journal of Historical Economics and Econometric History, Association Française de Cliométrie (AFC), vol. 6(1), pages 79-88, January.
    15. Jutta Bolt & Jan Luiten Zanden, 2014. "The Maddison Project: collaborative research on historical national accounts," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 67(3), pages 627-651, August.
    16. Stephen Broadberry & Bruce Campbell & Alexander Klein & Mark Overton & Bas van Leeuwen, 2012. "British Economic Growth, 1270-1870: an output-based approach," Studies in Economics 1203, School of Economics, University of Kent.
    17. Ian Gazeley & Sara Horrell, 2013. "Nutrition in the English agricultural labourer's household over the course of the long nineteenth century," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 66(3), pages 757-784, August.
    18. Johan Fourie, 2011. "Slaves as capital investment in the Dutch Cape Colony, 1652-1795," Working Papers 21/2011, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
    19. Crafts, Nicholas & O’Rourke, Kevin Hjortshøj, 2014. "Twentieth Century Growth*This research has received funding from the European Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) / ERC grant agreement no. 249546.," Handbook of Economic Growth,in: Handbook of Economic Growth, edition 1, volume 2, chapter 6, pages 263-346 Elsevier.
    20. Jane Humphries, 2013. "The lure of aggregates and the pitfalls of the patriarchal perspective: a critique of the high wage economy interpretation of the British industrial revolution," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 66(3), pages 693-714, August.
    21. Gary, Kathryn, 2017. "Constructing equality? : Women’s wages for physical labor, 1550-1759," Lund Papers in Economic History 158, Lund University, Department of Economic History.
    22. Robert Allen, 2013. "Poverty Lines in History, Theory, and Current International Practice," Economics Series Working Papers 685, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.

    More about this item


    Consumer Revolution; Cost-of-Living Index; Day Wages; ‘Industrious’ Revolution; Industrial Revolution; Labour Supply; Standard of Living;

    JEL classification:

    • J22 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Time Allocation and Labor Supply
    • J43 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Particular Labor Markets - - - Agricultural Labor Markets
    • N30 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - General, International, or Comparative

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