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Spinning the Industrial Revolution

Listed author(s):
  • Jane Humphries

    (All Souls College, University of Oxford)

  • Benjamin Schneider

    (Merton College, University of Oxford)

Registered author(s):

    The prevailing explanation for why the Industrial Revolution occurred first in Britain is Robert Allen’s (2009) ‘high-wage economy’ view, which claims that the high cost of labour relative to capital and fuel incentivized innovation and the adoption of new techniques. This paper presents new empirical evidence on hand spinning before the Industrial Revolution and demonstrates that there was no such ‘high-wage economy’ in spinning, a leading sector of industrialization. We quantify the working lives of frequently ignored female and child spinners who were crucial to the British textile industry in the Early Modern period with evidence of productivity and wages from the late sixteenth to the early nineteenth century. Our results show that spinning was a widespread, low-wage, low-productivity employment, in line with the Humphries (2013) view of the motivations for the factory system.

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    File URL: http://www.economics.ox.ac.uk/materials/papers/14544/spinning-the-industrial-revolution-for-discussion-paper-series-final.pdf
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    Paper provided by Economics Group, Nuffield College, University of Oxford in its series Oxford University Economic and Social History Series with number _145.

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    Length: 55 pages
    Date of creation: 05 Jun 2016
    Handle: RePEc:nuf:esohwp:_145
    Contact details of provider: Web page: https://www.nuffield.ox.ac.uk/economics/

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    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. Valenze, Deborah, 1995. "The First Industrial Woman," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780195089820, April.
    3. 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.
    4. Stephen A. Marglin, 1974. "What Do Bosses Do?," Review of Radical Political Economics, Union for Radical Political Economics, vol. 6(2), pages 60-112, July.
    5. 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, 08.
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