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Spinning the Industrial Revolution

Author

Listed:
  • Jane Humphries

    (All Souls College, University of Oxford)

  • Benjamin Schneider

    (Merton College, University of Oxford)

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Jane Humphries & Benjamin Schneider, 2016. "Spinning the Industrial Revolution," Oxford University Economic and Social History Series _145, Economics Group, Nuffield College, University of Oxford.
  • Handle: RePEc:nuf:esohwp:_145
    as

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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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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    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.
    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, August.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    Citations

    Blog mentions

    As found by EconAcademics.org, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. A Tale of Two Wages: Spinners and the Industrial Revolution
      by Thales ZP in NEP-HIS blog on 2016-12-21 19:01:13
    2. Random thoughts on critiques of Allen’s theory of the Industrial Revolution
      by pseudoerasmus in Pseudoerasmus on 2016-12-02 02:35:02

    More about this item

    Keywords

    hand spinning; women's wages; Industrial Revolution; textiles; Great Divergence; High Wage Economy interpretation of invention and innovation;

    JEL classification:

    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • J31 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Wage Level and Structure; Wage Differentials
    • J42 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Particular Labor Markets - - - Monopsony; Segmented Labor Markets
    • J46 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Particular Labor Markets - - - Informal Labor Market
    • N13 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • N33 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • N63 - Economic History - - Manufacturing and Construction - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • O14 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Industrialization; Manufacturing and Service Industries; Choice of Technology
    • O31 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - Innovation and Invention: Processes and Incentives

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