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Human Capital Formation from Occupations: The ‘Deskilling Hypothesis’ Revisited

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  • Alexandra De Pleijt
  • Jacob Weisdorf

Abstract

We use occupational titles from English parish registers in an attempt to test the deskilling hypothesis, i.e. the notion that England’s Industrial Revolution was mainly skill saving. We code the occupational titles of over 30,000 male workers according to the skillcontent of their work (using HISCLASS) to track the evolution of working skills in England between 1550 and 1850. Although we observe a minor rise in the share of ‘high-quality workmen’ deemed necessary by Mokyr and others to facilitate the Industrial Revolution, such as joiners, turners, and wrights, we also find considerable growth in the share of unskilled workers, from 20% in around 1700 to 39% in around 1850, fed mainly by falling shares of semi-skilled blue-collar workers, such as tailors, shoemakers, and weavers. This supports the view that England’s Industrial Revolution was not only skill saving on average but also involved a proletarianization of the English workforce.

Suggested Citation

  • Alexandra De Pleijt & Jacob Weisdorf, 2014. "Human Capital Formation from Occupations: The ‘Deskilling Hypothesis’ Revisited," Working Papers 0057, Utrecht University, Centre for Global Economic History.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucg:wpaper:0057
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    Cited by:

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    3. Begoña Álvarez & Fernando Ramos Palencia, 2016. "The role of human capital in pre-industrial societies: Skills and earnings in eighteenth-century Castile (Spain)," Working Papers 16.03, Universidad Pablo de Olavide, Department of Economics, Quantitative Methods and Economic History.
    4. Adrien Montalbo, 2019. "Education and economic development. The influence of primary schooling on municipalities in nineteenth-century France," PSE Working Papers halshs-02286126, HAL.
    5. Francisco J. Beltrán Tapia & Alfonso Díez-Minguela & Julio Martínez-Galarraga & Daniel A. Tirado, 2019. "The uneven transition towards universal literacy in Spain, 1860-1930," Working Papers 0173, European Historical Economics Society (EHES).
    6. Kevin H. O’Rourke & Ahmed S. Rahman & Alan M. Taylor, 2012. "Trade, Technology and the Great Divergence," Departmental Working Papers 35, United States Naval Academy Department of Economics.
    7. Alexandra de Pleijt & Alessandro Nuvolari & Jacob Weisdorf, 2020. "Human Capital Formation During the First Industrial Revolution: Evidence from the use of Steam Engines," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 18(2), pages 829-889.
    8. Claude Diebolt & Charlotte Le Chapelain & Audrey-Rose Menard, 2017. "Industrialization as a Deskilling Process? Steam Engines and Human Capital in XIXth Century France," Working Papers of BETA 2017-17, Bureau d'Economie Théorique et Appliquée, UDS, Strasbourg.
    9. Billington, Stephen D., 2021. "What explains patenting behaviour during Britain’s Industrial Revolution?," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 82(C).
    10. Claude Diebolt & Charlotte Le Chapelain & Audrey Rose Menard, 2018. "Learning outside the factory: the impact of technological change on the rise of adult education in nineteenth-century France," Working Papers 02-18, Association Française de Cliométrie (AFC).
    11. Oliver Kovacs, 2019. "Big IFs in Productivity-Enhancing Industry 4.0," Social Sciences, MDPI, vol. 8(2), pages 1-17, January.
    12. Adrien Montalbo, 2018. "Industrial activities and primary schooling in early nineteenth-century France," Working Papers halshs-01826346, HAL.
    13. Meier zu Selhausen, Felix P. & van Leeuwen, Marco H.D. & Weisdorf, Jacob L., 2015. "Social Mobility among Christian Africans: Evidence from Ugandan Marriage Registers 1895-2011," CAGE Online Working Paper Series 239, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).
    14. Adrien Montalbo, 2018. "Industrial activities and primary schooling in early nineteenth-century France," PSE Working Papers halshs-01826346, HAL.
    15. Baten, Jörg & de Pleijt, Alexandra, 2018. "Female autonomy generates superstars in long-term development: Evidence from 15th to 19th century Europe," CEPR Discussion Papers 13348, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    16. Alexandra M. de Pleijt, 2018. "Human capital formation in the long run: evidence from average years of schooling in England, 1300–1900," Cliometrica, Journal of Historical Economics and Econometric History, Association Française de Cliométrie (AFC), vol. 12(1), pages 99-126, January.
    17. Kevin O’Rourke & Ahmed Rahman & Alan Taylor, 2013. "Luddites, the industrial revolution, and the demographic transition," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 18(4), pages 373-409, December.
    18. Adrien Montalbo, 2019. "Education and economic development. The influence of primary schooling on municipalities in nineteenth-century France," Working Papers halshs-02286126, HAL.
    19. Èric Gómez-i-Aznar, 2019. "Human capital at the beginnings of the 18th century Catalonia: age-heaping and numeracy in a changing economy," Documentos de Trabajo (DT-AEHE) 1904, Asociación Española de Historia Económica.
    20. de Pleijt, Alexandra M., 2015. "Human capital and long run economic growth : Evidence from the stock of human capital in England, 1300-1900," CAGE Online Working Paper Series 229, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).
    21. Monica Bozzano & Gabriele Cappelli, 2019. "The legacy of history or the outcome of reforms? Primary education and literacy in Liberal Italy (1871-1911)," Department of Economics University of Siena 801, Department of Economics, University of Siena.
    22. Philips, Robin C. M. & Földvàri, Péter & Van Leeuwen, Bas, 2017. "Drivers of industrialisation: intersectoral evidence from the Low Countries in the nineteenth century," MPRA Paper 83304, University Library of Munich, Germany.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Deskilling; HISCLASS; Human Capital; Industrial Revolution; Occupations;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • N33 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • O10 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - General

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