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What Was the Industrial Revolution?

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  • Robert E. Lucas, Jr.

Abstract

At some point in the first half of the 19th century per capita GDP in the United Kingdom and the United States began to grow at something like one to two percent per year and have continued to do so up to the present. Now incomes in many economies routinely grow at 2 percent per year and some grow at much higher “catch-up” rates. These events surely represent a historical watershed, separating a traditional world in which incomes of ordinary working people remained low and fairly stable over the centuries from a modern world where incomes increase for every new generation. This paper uses Gary Becker’s theory of a “quantity/quality trade-off,” consistent both with Malthusian population dynamics (quantity) and with demographic transition (quality), to identify a limited set of forces that were central to this revolution.

Suggested Citation

  • Robert E. Lucas, Jr., 2017. "What Was the Industrial Revolution?," NBER Working Papers 23547, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:23547
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Becker, Gary S & Tomes, Nigel, 1976. "Child Endowments and the Quantity and Quality of Children," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 84(4), pages 143-162, August.
    2. Jones Charles I., 2001. "Was an Industrial Revolution Inevitable? Economic Growth Over the Very Long Run," The B.E. Journal of Macroeconomics, De Gruyter, vol. 1(2), pages 1-45, August.
    3. Gary S. Becker & H. Gregg Lewis, 1974. "Interaction between Quantity and Quality of Children," NBER Chapters, in: Economics of the Family: Marriage, Children, and Human Capital, pages 81-90, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Robert M. Solow, 1956. "A Contribution to the Theory of Economic Growth," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 70(1), pages 65-94.
    5. Barro, Robert J & Becker, Gary S, 1989. "Fertility Choice in a Model of Economic Growth," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 57(2), pages 481-501, March.
    6. Clark, Gregory & Cummins, Neil, 2016. "The Child Quality-Quantity Tradeoff, England, 1780-1880: A Fundamental Component of the Economic Theory of Growth is Missing," CEPR Discussion Papers 11232, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    7. Santiago Caicedo & Robert E. Lucas Jr. & Esteban Rossi-Hansberg, 2019. "Learning, Career Paths, and the Distribution of Wages," American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics, American Economic Association, vol. 11(1), pages 49-88, January.
    8. Isaac Ehrlich & Jinyoung Kim, 2015. "Immigration, Human Capital Formation, and Endogenous Economic Growth," Journal of Human Capital, University of Chicago Press, vol. 9(4), pages 518-563.
    9. David N. Weil & Oded Galor, 2000. "Population, Technology, and Growth: From Malthusian Stagnation to the Demographic Transition and Beyond," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(4), pages 806-828, September.
    10. McCloskey, Deirdre N., 2016. "Bourgeois Equality," University of Chicago Press Economics Books, University of Chicago Press, number 9780226333991, December.
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    Cited by:

    1. Roger Koppl & Abigail Devereaux & Jim Herriot & Stuart Kauffman, 2018. "A Simple Combinatorial Model of World Economic History," Papers 1811.04502, arXiv.org.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • N00 - Economic History - - General - - - General
    • O11 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Macroeconomic Analyses of Economic Development
    • O40 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - General

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