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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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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Gregory Clark, 2005. "The Condition of the Working Class in England, 1209-2004," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 113(6), pages 1307-1340, December.
    2. Broadberry,Stephen & Campbell,Bruce M. S. & Klein,Alexander & Overton,Mark & van Leeuwen,Bas, 2015. "British Economic Growth, 1270–1870," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9781107070783.
    3. Boberg-Fazlic, Nina & Sharp, Paul & Weisdorf, Jacob, 2011. "Survival of the richest? Social status, fertility and social mobility in England 1541-1824," European Review of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 15(03), pages 365-392, December.
    4. Nuvolari, A., 2000. "The 'machine breakers' and the industrial revolution," Working Papers 00.11, Eindhoven Center for Innovation Studies.
    5. Humphries,Jane, 2010. "Childhood and Child Labour in the British Industrial Revolution," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521847568.
    6. Karine van der Beek, "undated". "England's Eighteenth Century Demand for High-Quality Workmanship: Evidence from Apprenticeship, 1710-1770," Working Papers 2013-015, Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Working Group.
    7. Clark, Gregory & Hamilton, Gillian, 2006. "Survival of the Richest: The Malthusian Mechanism in Pre-Industrial England," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 66(03), pages 707-736, September.
    8. Allen, Robert C., 2009. "Engels' pause: Technical change, capital accumulation, and inequality in the british industrial revolution," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 46(4), pages 418-435, October.
    9. Claudia Goldin & Lawrence F. Katz, 1998. "The Origins of Technology-Skill Complementarity," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 113(3), pages 693-732.
    10. R. A. Houston, 1982. "The Development of Literacy: Northern England, 1640–1750," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 35(2), pages 199-216, May.
    11. Gregory Clark, 2007. "Introduction to A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World," Introductory Chapters,in: A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World Princeton University Press.
    12. 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.
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Pleijt, Alexandra M. de & Nuvolari, Alessandro & Weisdorf, Jacob, 2016. "Human Capital Formation during the First Industrial Revolution: Evidence from the Use of Steam Engines," CAGE Online Working Paper Series 294, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).
    2. 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.
    3. 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).
    4. 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).
    5. repec:spr:cliomt:v:12:y:2018:i:1:d:10.1007_s11698-016-0156-3 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. Pleijt, Alexandra M. de & Nuvolari, Alessandro & Weisdorf, Jacob, 2016. "Human Capital Formation during the First Industrial Revolution: Evidence from the Use of Steam Engines," CAGE Online Working Paper Series 294, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).
    7. 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).
    8. repec:afc:cliome:v:12:y:2018:i:1:p:99-126 is not listed on IDEAS
    9. 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.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Deskilling; HISCLASS; Human Capital; Industrial Revolution; Occupations;

    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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