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Labor Productivity in Britain and America During the Nineteenth Century

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  • Stephen N. Broadberry
  • Douglas A. Irwin

Abstract

A number of writers have recently questioned whether labor productivity or per capita incomes were ever higher in the United Kingdom than in the United States. We show that although the United States already had a substantial labor productivity lead in industry as early as 1840, especially in manufacturing, labor productivity was broadly equal in the two countries in agriculture, while the United Kingdom was ahead in services. Hence aggregate labor productivity was higher in the United Kingdom, particularly since the United States had a larger share of the labor force in low value-added agriculture. U.S. overtaking occurred decisively only during the 1890s, as labor productivity pulled ahead in services and the share of agricultural employment declined substantially. Labor force participation was lower in the United States, so that the United Kingdom's labor productivity advantage in the mid-nineteenth century translated into a larger per capita income lead.

Suggested Citation

  • Stephen N. Broadberry & Douglas A. Irwin, 2004. "Labor Productivity in Britain and America During the Nineteenth Century," NBER Working Papers 10364, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:10364
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Broadberry, Stephen & Gupta, Bishnupriya, 2010. "The historical roots of India's service-led development: A sectoral analysis of Anglo-Indian productivity differences, 1870-2000," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 47(3), pages 264-278, July.
    2. Broadberry, Stephen & Giordano, Claire & Zollino, Francesco, 2011. "A Sectoral Analysis of Italy's Development: 1861 -2010," CAGE Online Working Paper Series 62, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • N10 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations - - - General, International, or Comparative
    • N30 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - General, International, or Comparative

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