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Literacy and Mobility in Rural versus Urban Victorian England: Evidence from linked marriage register and census records for Birmingham and Norfolk, 1851 and 1881

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  • David Mitch


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    This paper reports procedures and results obtained from linking marriage registers with the 1851 and 1881 censuses for Birmingham, a major industrial center, and rural areas in Norfolk. The results underscore regional contrasts in mobility processes. Those starting out in Birmingham from unskilled origins whether parental or initial occupation, had quite high probabilities of experiencing upward occupational mobility. Probabilities for those of unskilled origin were considerably lower in rural Norfolk; but for those of higher origins mobility rates could at least equal if not exceed those in Birmingham. More strikingly, literacy offered considerably greater prospects for advancement for those in rural Norfolk than industrial Birmingham. Basic education could matter more to the aspiring farm bailiff or rural shopkeeper than for the nail-maker or gunsmith. The career impact of literacy over and above impact on initial occupation at marriage was especially sizable for agricultural Norfolk in the earlier time period. The results suggest differences in the migration patterns in the two areas with overall rates of migration being higher in Norfolk, but migration rates for the upwardly occupationally mobile being greater in Birmingham. There was no clear connection between literacy and geographic mobility. Thus, the results here do indicate a positive association between industrialization and occupational mobility. But they also underscore that mobility did occur in agricultural areas and that education could play at least as great a role in facilitating mobility in agricultural as in industrial areas.

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    Paper provided by UMBC Department of Economics in its series UMBC Economics Department Working Papers with number 03-107.

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    Length: 37 pages
    Date of creation: Oct 2003
    Handle: RePEc:umb:econwp:03107
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    1. Mitch, David, 1983. "The Spread of Literacy in Nineteenth-Century England," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 43(01), pages 287-288, March.
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