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Unreal Wages? A New Empirical Foundation for the Study of Living Standards and Economic Growth in England, 1260-1860


  • Jane Humphries
  • Jacob Weisdorf


Abstract: Existing measures of historical real wages suffer from the fundamental problem that workers’ annual incomes are estimated on the basis of day wages without knowing the length of the working year. We circumvent this problem by presenting a novel wage series of male workers employed on annual contracts. We use evidence of labour market arbitrage to argue that existing real wage estimates are badly off target, because they overestimate the medieval working year but underestimate the industrial one. Our data suggests that modern economic growth began two centuries earlier than hitherto thought and was driven by an ‘Industrious Revolution’.

Suggested Citation

  • Jane Humphries & Jacob Weisdorf, 2016. "Unreal Wages? A New Empirical Foundation for the Study of Living Standards and Economic Growth in England, 1260-1860," Economics Series Working Papers Paper 147, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:oxf:wpaper:paper-147

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Blog mentions

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    1. 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


    England; industrial revolution; industrious revolution; labour input; living standards; wages; Malthusian model.;

    JEL classification:

    • J3 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs
    • J4 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Particular Labor Markets
    • J5 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Labor-Management Relations, Trade Unions, and Collective Bargaining
    • J6 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers
    • J7 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Labor Discrimination
    • J8 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Labor Standards
    • N33 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - Europe: Pre-1913

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