Spinning the Industrial Revolution
Jane Humphries and
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Jane Humphries: All Souls College, University of Oxford
Benjamin Schneider: Merton College, University of Oxford
No _145, Oxford University Economic and Social History Series from Economics Group, Nuffield College, University of Oxford
The prevailing explanation for why the Industrial Revolution occurred first in Britain is Robert Allen’s (2009) ‘high-wage economy’ view, which claims that the high cost of labour relative to capital and fuel incentivized innovation and the adoption of new techniques. This paper presents new empirical evidence on hand spinning before the Industrial Revolution and demonstrates that there was no such ‘high-wage economy’ in spinning, a leading sector of industrialization. We quantify the working lives of frequently ignored female and child spinners who were crucial to the British textile industry in the Early Modern period with evidence of productivity and wages from the late sixteenth to the early nineteenth century. Our results show that spinning was a widespread, low-wage, low-productivity employment, in line with the Humphries (2013) view of the motivations for the factory system.
Keywords: hand spinning; women's wages; Industrial Revolution; textiles; Great Divergence; High Wage Economy interpretation of invention and innovation (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: J24 J31 J42 J46 N13 N33 N63 O14 O31 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-his, nep-hme, nep-ino and nep-lma
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