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Welcome to Economies Past

Welcome to Economies Past

Over the last 20 years, a team of historians at Cambridge have collected millions of records to build, for England and Wales, the most detailed quantitative picture of long-run economic development ever assembled anywhere in the world. The data concern occupational structure, which refers to the distribution of men and women through different economic activities.

  Explore the map    plus our user guide.

The graph shows the long-run trends in male occupational structure.

All occupations have been classified to one of three sectors:

  • Primary sector: agriculture, forestry and fishing;
  • Secondary sector: mining, manufacturing and construction;
  • Tertiary sector: anyone in services.

The most surprising, and most important, finding of the project is that the key period for the shift from the primary to the secondary sector was from 1600-1700, not 1750-1850 as 100 years of scholarship has assumed. In fact, the share of the male labour force in the secondary sector (excluding mining) was flat during the Industrial Revolution.

A second major finding is that the tertiary sector was the most dynamic sector of employment during the Industrial Revolution period.

However, the pattern of change is much more complex at local and regional levels, and in the 18th century many old industrial areas de-industrialised, as industry came to concentrate more and more on the coalfield.

This website allows users to explore data on male occupational structure at local and regional levels from 1600-1911 and to compare with 2011. For the periods 1851 and 1911, it is also possible to explore what was happening to female employment and child employment. In the future we hope to be able to push the male data back in time and to collect data on women’s work before 1851.

Header image: The probate inventory of John Booth, victualler of Macclesfield (Cheshire), 1697.