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Wages at the Wheel: Were Spinners Part of the High Wage Economy?

Author

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  • Jane Humphries
  • Benjamin Schneider

Abstract

In our earlier paper we used archival and printed primary sources to construct the first long-run series of wages for hand spinning in early modern Britain. Our evidence challenged Robert Allen’s claim that spinners were part of the ‘High Wage Economy’, which he sees as motivating invention, innovation, and mechanisation in the spinning section of the textile industry. Here we respond to Allen’s criticism of our argument, sources and methods, and his presentation of alternative evidence. Allen contends that we have understated both the earnings and associated productivity of hand spinners by focussing on part-time and low-quality workers. His rejoinder is found to rest on an ahistorical account of spinners’ work and similarly weak evidence on wages as did his initial claims. We also present an expanded version of the spinners’ wages dataset, which confirms our original findings: spinners’ wages were low even compared with other women workers and did not follow a trajectory which could explain the invention and spread of the spinning jenny.

Suggested Citation

  • Jane Humphries & Benjamin Schneider, 2019. "Wages at the Wheel: Were Spinners Part of the High Wage Economy?," Oxford Economic and Social History Working Papers _174, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:oxf:esohwp:_174
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. 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(2), pages 455-460, June.
    2. Allen,Robert C., 2009. "The British Industrial Revolution in Global Perspective," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521868273, January.
    3. Judy Stephenson, 2018. "Looking for work? Or looking for workers? Days and hours of work in London construction in the eighteenth century," Oxford Economic and Social History Working Papers _162, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
    4. Jane Humphries & Benjamin Schneider, 2019. "Spinning the industrial revolution," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 72(1), pages 126-155, February.
    5. Jane Humphries, 2013. "Childhood and child labour in the British industrial revolution," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 66(2), pages 395-418, May.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    hand spinning; women's wages; Industrial Revolution; textiles; Great Divergence; induced innovation; High Wage Economy;
    All these keywords.

    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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