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Economies Past

Overview

Overview

Last updated: June 2023.


Economies Past

Background

Occupational structure (or labour force distribution) refers to the distribution of men, women and children through the labour force. In 'low income or underdeveloped economies, most men, women and children typically work in agriculture, in essence because the productivity of labour in agriculture is so low that it is essential for most people to work in agriculture simply to feed the population. As an economy develops a higher proportion of the labour force typically come to work outside agriculture in the secondary and tertiary sectors. Agriculture is part, and in an underdeveloped economy, typically the dominant part, of the primary sector, which also includes forestry, fishing and mining (though this is sometimes included in the secondary sector). The primary sector produces the raw materials which are refined and transformed into finished goods by the secondary sector. The transport and distribution of primary and secondary sector goods is done by the tertiary sector. Other tertiary sector workers provide services required by society whether cafes, restaurants, hospitals, schools or passenger air travel. The secondary sector consists of all those people occupied in making things, in transforming raw materials into semi-finished and finished physical goods. This includes not just people working in factories in the recent past but also: village artisans like blacksmiths, carpenters, millers, tailors, dressmakers, shoemakers, wheelwrights and others producing goods for local use; and those working in more specialised manufacturing jobs producing for distant markets before mechanisation in many rural areas, such as weavers and spinners producing cloth or lock-makers, scythe makers and others in the area that is now Birmingham, whether working in small workshops or in their own homes. The tertiary sector refers to all those working in services. This includes shopkeepers, sales assistants, merchants, wholesalers, innkeepers, domestic servants, laundresses, lawyers, nurses, doctors, secretaries, clerks, teachers and all those working in transportation.

Today, all high income economies are dominated by tertiary sector employment which accounts for more than 70% of the labour force in Europe, Japan and North America. Before the 1980s developed economies typically had both large secondary and large tertiary sectors. Now large secondary sectors are more typical of middle income countries like China, though even in China the tertiary sector now employs more people than the secondary sector and the secondary sector is declining.

Britain was the first society in human history to escape from the constrains of agriculturally-based economies and the inevitable mass poverty, long working hours and high mortality associated with such economies. The escape from agricultural poverty is often termed 'industrialisation' or the Industrial Revolution. The world's first Industrial Revolution took place in Britain, but Britain was soon followed by other parts of North-Western Europe, North America and Japan. Other parts of the world have industrialised to different degrees at very different times. Child labour is as old as human history because no poor society can afford to dispense with the labour of children (or that of the elderly). Shorter working hours, regular holidays, the abolition of child labour and the emergence of retirement for the elderly are all long-term consequences of industrialisation together with longer healthier lives and ever higher levels of material prosperity.

The failure to industrialise, is the cause of the 'development-gap' and lies at the heart of 'underdevelopment' and 'third-world' poverty today. China is the most recent and spectacular example of industrialisation in world history, lifting hundreds of millions of people out of grinding poverty in a few decades. However, it is increasingly clear that industrialisation based on the burning of fossils fuels threatens all our livelihoods and much more, unless ways can be found to shift to 'green' technologies.

The occupational structure of Britain c.1379-1911 research program

The Occupational Structure of Britain c.1379-1911 research program was begun in 2003 at the University of Cambridge with the intention of collecting as much occupational data as possible for as long a period as possible, with the underlying aim of providing an improved understanding of the world's first Industrial Revolution. At the time of writing (2019) much has been achieved, mainly with respect to adult male occupations, but much remains to be done with respect to women and children, whose work is much harder to reconstruct from the surviving documentary evidence. How much more we can do will depend on how much research funding we can raise. The figure shown above shows our reconstruction of the main trends in male adult occupational structure. Two key findings may be noted here. First, the period from 1550 to around 1700 was a period of slow but steady structural change in the labour force. For over one hundred years, historians have assumed that the secondary sector share of the labour force increased dramatically from a low base between 1750 and 1850, the period conventionally considered as the Industrial Revolution. Our data shows that this view was fundamentally misplaced. If industrialisation is defined in terms of the shift in the structure of the labour force to the secondary sector, then this process was completed by 1700 when over 30 per cent of adult men were employed in the secondary sector. Of course the output of the secondary sector grew explosively from the last third of the eighteenth century as many industries mechanised, but this process did not require an ever larger share of the labour force in the secondary sector to produce that output, because industrialisation had shifted from a labour intensive path, mainly using traditional technologies, to a technology intensive path using powered machinery. The same effect can be seen in China today which has less than 30 per cent of its labour force in the secondary sector and the share has been declining in recent years. The second major finding is that the tertiary sector was growing in importance across the eighteenth century and that from the nineteenth century the structural change in employment was from agriculture to the tertiary sector. Tertiary sector growth is often assumed to date from the 1950s and perhaps to be insecure or unstable. In fact, the tertiary sector's share of the labour force has been growing for nearly all of the last three hundred years and all high-income societies are dominated by the service sector.

The Economies Past website

This website allows users to create and view maps of occupational structure across England and Wales from 1600-2011 and to zoom in to examine patterns and change at the local level. Note that you can display two maps side by side and that you have the choice either to hold the areas shown in the two maps the same, or to scroll around the two maps independently. It is also possible to switch the data off and show the underlying map base, which may be useful in helping you to recognise where you are on the map. You can explore 13 different sectors and sub-sectors of employment and also the labour force participation rate. All these measures are defined below and the definitions can also be viewed in pop-up windows accessed by clicking on the question mark after the variable names on the right-hand panel of the interactive maps. You can also choose whether to look at adult males (1600-2011); adult females (1851-2011); all adults (1851-2011); female children aged 10-12 (1851-1911); female children aged 13-14 (1851-1911); male children 10-12 (1851-1911) and male children 13-14 (1851-1911).

It is important to stress that when you look at child and female employment patterns in the 1851-1911 period, you should also look at the labour force participation rate (the proportion of the relevant group in the labour market) because large numbers of women and children were not in the labour market, but the shares of men, women and children in each sector and subsector are always expressed as a proportion of all individuals in the population sub-group who were in the labour market. A single example may make this clear. If you look at male children aged 10-12 in agriculture in 1911, you will see many locations where over 50 per cent of male children in the labour force in this age range were in agriculture. However, if you look at the labour force participation rate for male children 10-12 in 1911, you will see that in most areas, less than ten per cent of boys 10-12 were in the labour force – because, by this date, the vast majority of children of this age were in school. If the labour force participation rate for boys 10-12 in a parish is say 8 per cent and the share of the labour force in agriculture for the same group is 50 per cent, then only 4 per cent of boys in this age range were working in agriculture. All this matters much less when looking at adult males, because reported participation rates between 1851 and 1911 were typically 95 per cent or more.

Data

The datasets have been created as part of the Occupational Structure of Britain c.1379-1911 research program. For the period 1600-1785 the data are primarily based on the occupations stated in surviving will and other documents associated with the probate process. All data from 1851-2011 derive from the decennial censuses. Further information on the datasets is provided under the Acknowledgements page.

We have most data for adult males because adult male occupations were very widely recorded in documentary sources after 1600. Hence you can explore the adult male occupational data via the interactive maps from 1600 to 1911, with 2011 providing a point of contrast with the present. We currently have data on adult female employment only for the period 1851-1911 and 2011. This is because in these periods, female employment was, with some caveats, well recorded by the census. Prior to the census of 1851, quantitative data on female employment is more difficult and more labour intensive (and hence more expensive) to come by. We also have data on children for the period 1851-1911. We cannot yet extend the treatment of children beyond 1911 because the individual census records for 1921 and later remain closed to public access. Prior to 1851 obtaining data on child labour is even more difficult than for adult females. We currently have no high spatial resolution data for Scotland and it is therefore omitted from this website. The underlying research project does have county level data for Scotland for the period 1851-1911. Subject to securing substantial further funding for our research project we hope in due course to add further data on male employment 1600-1800; data on adults and children in 1921; data on women before 1851; and data for Scotland.

Geographic units

The main geographical units used in these maps are historical parishes and registration sub-districts. For the period 1600-1785 these parishes were ecclesiastical units with a parish church. There were around 11,400 such units in England and Wales. However, for the probate-derived estimates for the period 1600-1785 the number of observations is not large enough to generate reliable parish level estimates. The site therefore uses registration sub-districts (RSDs) for these estimates. These were nineteenth century administrative units used to report both census outputs and vital statistics (births, marriages and deaths) between 1851 and 1911. There were about 2,200 RSDs, ranging in area from fewer than 30 acres to well over 100,000 acres, and in population size from a few hundred people to 150,000 persons or more. RSDs which were predominantly urban tended to be smaller and more populous, and therefore had higher population densities than rural RSDs. However not all RSDs covered a uniformly urban or uniformly rural area: some contained both part of a town and some of the surrounding area, while others which were mainly countryside included settlements of varying sizes. The number of RSDs varied over time and we have used the RSDs for the year concerned, except for the period 1600-1785 and 2011 when we have used the RSDs as of 1851. In 1710, 1755 and 1785 where we have scattered data for some parishes from parish registers, we have mapped these data at the parish level. Thus the maps for 1710, 1755 and 1785 are a composite of RSDs and parishes, but overwhelmingly RSDs.

For 1851-1911 the census data are available by smaller units, termed census parishes. These were often not the same as the ecclesiastical parishes and there were about 15,000 census parishes. Some parishes and RSDs, especially in growing urban areas, underwent major boundary changes over time, or were subdivided into new units, especially after 1891. At the parish level, we have aggregated some parishes so as to have all the data displayed in the same set of spatial units in all years. This means that some units shown on the maps are not parishes but aggregations of census parishes. The census data for 2011 have been patched into the nineteenth century administrative units.

At all zoom levels, data for 1600-1660 are for registration sub-districts and data for 1710 to 1785 are mainly for RSDs with some parishes (where parish level data is available). For 1851-2011 when you zoom out to see the large areas or whole country, the data are displayed in RSDs. When you zoom further in the units change to parishes.

High-resolution colour PDFs of maps are available on the Resources page. These can be printed out (use a colour printer and set the printer to maximum quality/resolution) and, if possible, print on A3 paper. These maps are at RSD level for 1600-1785 and parish level for 1851-1911.

For the provenance of the boundary data used for this site see the Acknowledgements page.



The labour force

The 'labour force' refers to those working (or looking for work) in any sector of the economy. This excludes those engaged in unpaid domestic work (mainly 'housewives'), those too old to work and children too young to work or otherwise not working. This is not meant to suggest that housework is not work but it is not part of the formal economy and we have no data on it.

Labour force participation rate

The 'labour force' refers to those working (or looking for work) in any sector of the economy. This excludes those engaged in unpaid domestic work ('housewives'), those too old to work and children too young to work or otherwise not working. The labour force participation rate is the share of the population in the labour force. In other words, it is the share of the population in work or looking for work. Before the census of 1851 no data on labour force participation are available. As a result, we only have data for 1851-1911.

As shown in figure one from 1851-1871 the reported labour force participation rate for males 15 and over was around 95 per cent. From 1881-1911 it was 93 per cent. This decline may be real or may be an artifact of changing enumeration practices.

As shown in figure two between 50 per cent and 60 per cent of boys aged 13-14 had a reported occupation. It is likely that a lot more 14-year-olds were at work than 13-year-olds. There was a decline from 58 per cent working in 1851 to 43 per cent in 1911.

Figure three reveals that a much smaller proportion of boys 10-12 were in the labour force and that the proportion in work diminished radically over the period 1851 to 1911. In 1851 25 per cent of boys 10-12 reported an occupation whereas by 1911 this had fallen to an almost negligible 3 per cent. It is worth noting that in 1851, at the end of the Industrial Revolution, most boys in this age range did not report an occupation.

Figure four shows that reported female labour force participation was much lower than men being close to 40 per cent throughout the period. However, the census only aimed to capture 'regular employment' for female and there is other evidence to suggest that a large share of women also worked irregularly. Labour force participation rates for unmarried women were closer to 80 per cent. Reported labour force participation rates were much lower for married women (around 10 per cent) and widows. Reported labour force participation rates fell in 1891, however, this was largely a result of changed census enumeration practices rather than a real change. It is likely that before the mechanisation of spinning in the late eighteenth century, the adult female labour force participation was closer to 80 per cent.

Figure 5 shows labour force participation rates for females aged 13-14. Levels were about two-thirds of the levels for boys. It is important to note that as early as 1851 most girls in this age range did not report an occupation – though they may have worked irregularly. There was a significant fall in the labour force participation rate from 40 per cent in 1851 to 26 per cent in 1911. Again it is likely that far more 14-year-olds were in work than 13-year-olds.

Figure six shows labour force participation rates for girls aged 10-13. Even in 1851 only 14 per cent of girls reported an occupation, a considerably lower figure than for boys. By 1911 this had dwindled to 1.5 per cent.

Primary - Labour force share

The share of the labour force in the primary sector

Definition: The primary sector covers all 'extractive' industries (in the sense that they extract products from the soil, water, etc.) and includes agriculture, mining, forestry and fishing. . Our maps show the share of the labour force in the primary sector, for adult males, adult females, boys 13-14, girls 13-14, boys 10-12, and girls 10-12. This is the number of people engaged in the primary sector expressed as a percentage of all people in the labour force within each population group.

Data: The website currently features occupational data for: adult males from 1600-1911 and for 2011; adult females from 1851-2011; and children aged 10-12 and 13-14 from 1851-1911.

A warning: Be aware that if, for instance, our maps show that 40 per cent of the female labour force aged 10-12 worked in the primary sector, this does not mean that 40 per cent of all girls aged 10-12 worked in the primary sector. This is because many girls of this age were not in the labour force at all (many were in school). This warning applies primarily to women and children whose labour force participation rates, unlike adult men's, were typically much less than 100 per cent between 1851 and 1911. The maps showing labour force shares for women and children should therefore be compared with the maps of labour force participation rates. Read more…

See also: Labour force participation rate, Labour force

Historical overview

Figure 1 below shows the share of the adult male labour force in the primary sector from 1600 to the 1911. For most of this period, the primary sector was overwhelmingly agricultural By 1817 mining (mainly coal mining) made up 3.1 % of adult male labour compared to 36.5% for agriculture. As the nineteenth century wore on the rapid expansion of coal mining and the decline of agriculture closed the gap. By 1911 agriculture employed only 10.9 per cent of the adult male labour force and mining employed as much as 8.5 per cent of the adult male labour force. The slight upturn in the graph after 1901 occurs because the growth of mining was larger than the decline of agriculture by this date. Estate work, forestry and fishing remained negligible (around 0.5%) throughout. For further details see the discussions of agriculture and mining elsewhere on this site.

We have reliable data on adult women's regular occupations from 1851 onwards and for child labour (defined here as those under 15) for the period 1851-1911. Figure 2 above shows the changing composition of the primary sector labour force from 1851-1911. The labour force in both mining and agriculture was dominated by adult men across the period. This dominance increased over time as child labour declined and the agricultural labour force masculinised further. For further discussions of the age and sex composition of the labour force see the discussions of agriculture and mining elsewhere on this site.

The share of the labour force in agriculture

Definition: Agriculture is a synonym for farming and includes farmers, members of farmers' families working on the farm, agricultural labourers working for farmers, shepherds and farm servants (individuals who lived in farmers' households and received food, somewhere to sleep and a small wage payment in exchange for their work on the farm).Our maps show the share of the labour force in agriculture, for adult males, adult females, boys 13-14, girls 13-14, boys 10-12, and girls 10-12. This is the number of people engaged in agriculture expressed as a percentage of all people in the labour force within each population group.

Data: We currently have occupational data for: adult males from 1381-2011; adult females from 1851-2011; and children aged 10-12 and 13-14 from 1851-1911.

The share of the labour force in agriculture

Men ploughing, women milking. W.H. Pyne. Microcosm (1808)

A warning: Be aware that if, for instance, our maps show that 40 per cent of the female labour force aged 10-12 worked in agriculture, this does not mean that 40 per cent of all girls aged 10-12 worked in agriculture. This is because many girls of this age were not in the labour force at all (many were in school). This warning applies primarily to women and children whose labour force participation rates, unlike adult men's, were typically much less than 100 per cent between 1851 and 1911. The maps showing labour force shares for women and children should therefore be compared with the maps of labour force participation rates. Read more…

See also: Labour force participation, rate Labour force

Historical overview

Figure 1 below shows the share of the adult male labour force in agriculture from 1381 to the most recent census in 2011. In the late fourteenth century, approaching 80 per cent of the adult male labour force worked in agriculture. We do not have data on child or female employment for this period, but we can assume that the overwhelming majority of women and children old enough to work worked in agriculture.

All underdeveloped economies are characterised by such a dominance of agriculture. Because the output per worker (productivity) is low, it is necessary for most of the population to work in agriculture simply to provide enough food for the population to eat. The share of the labour force in agriculture is therefore a useful indicator of the level of economic development. Typically, as a society undergoes economic development, the share of the labour force in agriculture declines. Today, in the most developed economies such as in Europe, North America and Japan, it is normal for less than two per cent of the labour force to work in agriculture. In China, a middle-income country, 44 per cent of the labour force worked in agriculture at the time of the 2010 census. In the least developed economies, which are mainly in sub-Saharan Africa, the share of the labour force in agriculture can exceed 80 per cent.

The share of the labour force in agriculture

Men mowing hay with scythes. W.H. Pyne. Microcosm (1808)

The share of the labour force in agriculture

As can be seen from Figure 1, between the mid fourteenth and the early sixteenth century there was a modest decline in the share of the adult male labour force in agriculture. Sometime after that, probably around the middle of the sixteenth century, but certainly by the beginning of the seventeenth century, the pace of change quickened. Between 1600 and 1750, the share of adult males in agriculture fell from around 64 per cent to about 41 per cent. The share of the labour force in agriculture fell below 50 per cent towards the end of the seventeenth century. For over one hundred years, historians and others believed that until the Industrial Revolution began in the late eighteenth century, most of the population worked in agriculture and that between 1750 and 1850 there was a dramatic decline in the share of the labour force in agriculture. As a result of our research project, however, we now know that much of the shift out of agriculture in fact took place between 1550 and 1750. This implies a major increase in labour productivity in agriculture in this period.

From 1750 through to the early nineteenth century, the share of the adult male labour force in agriculture was remarkably stable. Between 1750 and 1850, the population of England tripled. The rapid growth of population after 1750 was accompanied by rising agricultural prices, suggesting that agriculture was struggling to keep up with the growth in demand for foodstuffs. In the second quarter of the nineteenth century, the downward trend in agriculture's share of the adult male labour force resumed and continued at a fast rate across the rest of the century. By this date, agricultural imports were increasing but these remained modest until after the mid-century. However, the period after 1815 saw the first use of 'off-farm' inputs and the beginning of what has been termed the second agricultural revolution. The massive imports of grains from North America, a consequence of American railroads and Atlantic steam ships lowering long-distance freight costs, really began only in the 1870s. Since 1900, the pace of decline has been slower but more or less continuous and only one per cent of adult males today work in agriculture. Even in the countryside, the farming population is in the minority.

Historians have debated whether there was an agricultural revolution between 1550 and 1700 or 1750 or whether the real period of agricultural revolution was 1750-1850. In fact the whole period 1550-1850 deserves to be described as an agricultural revolution.

The share of the labour force in agriculture

Woman milking, man broadcasting seed, men threshing grain. W.H. Pyne. Microcosm (1808)

The share of the labour force in agriculture

We have reliable data on adult women's occupations from 1851 onwards and for child labour (defined here as those under 15) for the period 1851-1911. Figure 2 above shows the changing composition of the agricultural labour force from 1851-1911. Across this period, the agricultural labour force was dominated by adult males who already made up 80 per cent of the agricultural labour force reported in the census at the beginning of the period. The next largest group was adult women, who made up around ten per cent of the labour force reported in the census. However, the available data understate the importance of adult women because large numbers of women worked in agriculture only at peak times, such as during the harvest in the summer or weeding in the spring. Because they did not work regularly across the year, they were not generally reported as agricultural workers in the census. However, we know from data on the number of days worked from other sources that the adult female contribution in 1851 was probably in the range 20-25 per cent. The data in Figure 2 suggest a sharp decline in adult female participation in agriculture between 1861 and 1881. However, this is largely a product of changing census enumeration practices, not real changes on the ground. From 1851-1871, the census office assumed that farmers' wives and daughters not otherwise employed were working on the farm. From the census in 1881 onwards, it was simply assumed that they were not working on the farm, therefore reducing the number of women recorded as working in agriculture.

Boys aged 10-14 made up nearly ten percent of the agricultural labour force in 1851 according to the census data. Girls made up such a small fraction of the reported labour force that they are scarcely visible in Figure 2. As with adult women, substantial numbers of both boys and girls who worked more irregularly in agriculture are not shown here. The decline in the importance of male children, especially those aged 10-12, shown in Figure 2 is real enough and reflects rising school attendances. Provision of schools was mandated by the 1870 Education Act. In 1880, attendance was made compulsory up to the age of ten and in 1893 this was extended to include all children up to age 12. Figure 3 below shows the share of the labour force in each population sub-group employed in agriculture 1851-1911. It is clear that the employment of older boys (aged 13-14) declined over the period at a similar rate to adult males, i.e. as a consequence of the shrinking role of agriculture in the economy. It was children aged 12 and below who were 'pulled' out of agriculture by schools. Older boys were 'pushed' out by the relative decline of agriculture.

The share of the labour force in agriculture

The commercial context of farming: It is often thought that in the middle of the eighteenth century, on the eve of the Industrial Revolution, much of the population were subsistence farmers (i.e. focussed mainly on producing their own food). In fact, by this date, the economy was highly commercialised and the vast majority of agriculture was carried out by commercial farmers who employed agricultural labourers to do most of the work and sold most of what they produced. The period between 1600 and 1750 saw significant commercialisation and a long-term shift away from subsistence production, but this was also true of the period from 1350 to 1650. As early as 1600, when 65 per cent of adult males worked in agriculture, it is clear that a substantial proportion of agricultural produce was sold in one form or another. Firstly, the population who were not working in agriculture (35 per cent of adult males worked outside agriculture at this date) needed to purchase most of their food in the market. Secondly, many of those working in agriculture were labourers or farm servants who grew little or no food of their own and needed to acquire it from farmers. For live-in farm servants, food and lodging was the main part of the payment for their work. Money was not changing hands, but the food being fed to servants was part of a market transaction.

The share of the labour force in agriculture

Market scenes. Note the heavy involvement of women selling foodstuffs (likely farmers' wives). W.H. Pyne. Microcosm (1808)

Even in 1381 when our data begin, there must have been significant trade in foodstuffs. Ten per cent of agricultural produce went to the church as tithe (a tax levied by the church) and it is likely that most of this was sold. Also, large farms producing more food than one household could consume were already emerging in the fourteenth century. There would have been no point in having a large farm if it were not possible to market the surplus. At the beginning of the seventeenth century, there were already over four hundred market towns in England and Wales. The sale of agricultural produce was the primary function of their markets.

The nature of work in farming: One way in which agricultural work differs from other forms of work is in the changing nature of work across the year. This can be seen in the agricultural calendar from a manuscript of Pietro Crescenzi written c. 1306, reproduced below.

The share of the labour force in agriculture

This shows tasks associated with each month of the year from January in the top left to December in the bottom right. Whilst this image derives from northern Italy, aside from the trampling of the grapes in October, it gives a good indication of the range of tasks done on farms in England and Wales across the year. Note the early dominance of male workers in agriculture with the exception of women working in the harvest in July, stacking sheaves in August, and in food processing associated with the slaughter of the pig in December.

Some food processing, such as butter making (pictured below) and cheese making was carried out on farms until the twentieth century and is therefore included in agriculture in our data. Such work was overwhelming done by women, who also dominated milking.

The share of the labour force in agriculture

Woman cleaning dairy utensils, man watching and woman churning butter. W.H. Pyne. Microcosm (1808)

Note that mechanisation, as we would normally think of it, had little impact on farms before the widespread introduction of tractors in the twentieth century, aside from the introduction of steam-powered threshing machines from the early nineteenth century. Steam-powered tractors were used in the late nineteenth century, but horses remained the dominant form of power for ploughing or pulling waggons and carts. However, the Domesday Book records over 5,000 watermills and we can conclude that the milling of grains was both 'mechanised' and no longer performed on the farm as early as 1086. In our data, millers are categorised as in the secondary sector (transforming grain into flour). Also, the extensive use in agriculture of oxen and, from the late medieval period, horses could be considered a form of mechanisation and is in sharp contrast to historical practice in most of China or Japan, where the use of animal traction was more limited. The widespread use of animal power must have been critically important in raising the productivity of labour in agriculture and allowing so much labour to be released to the secondary sector between 1550 and 1750.

The share of the labour force in mining

Definition: Mining refers to everyone employed in mining and quarrying (that is, extracting stones, clay or gravel). The great majority of miners were coal miners. Smaller numbers mined iron, lead, copper and tin. Our maps show the number of people engaged in mining and quarrying expressed as a percentage of all people with an occupation within each population group (adult males, adult females, boys 13-14, girls 13-14, boys 10-12, and girls 10-12.

Data: The website currently features occupational data for: adult males from 1600-1911 and 2011; adult females from 1851-1911 and 2011; and children aged 10-12 and 13-14 from 1851-1911.

Hoisting coal from a pit, W.H Pyne, Microcosm, 1808

A warning: Be aware that if, for instance, our maps show that 0.5 per cent of the female labour force aged 10-12 worked in mining, this does not mean that 0.5 per cent of all girls aged 10-12 worked in mining. This is because many girls of this age were not in the labour force at all (many were in school). This warning applies primarily to women and children whose labour force participation rates, unlike adult men's, were typically much less than 100 per cent between 1851 and 1911. The maps showing labour force shares for women and children should therefore be compared with the maps of labour force participation rates. Read more…

See also: Labour force participation rate, Labour force

Historical overview

Coal was used on a modest scale long before our data begin. We know the Romans used some coal.

For most purposes, wood was preferred to coal, because of the unpleasant fumes and because when used for industrial purposes it tended to contaminate the raw material. In consequence coal was used only on a very small scale before the middle of the sixteenth century. Around then the price of wood began to rise as population growth outstripped wood supply. Only around five per cent of England was still wooded at this date. Coal production grew explosively from the mid sixteenth century.

Domestic consumption accounted for a large share of coal use.. , but many industries switched to using coal during the seventeenth century, e.g. making glass, pottery, brewing, smelting lead and copper. A major breakthrough came in 1709 when Abraham Derby succeeded in smelting iron with coke (a form of purified coal) at Coalbrookdale in Shropshire, but this had a limited impact before the middle of the eighteenth century when methods of refining iron with coke were developed. Thereafter output of iron and steel (and hence coal-use) grew explosively. The steam engine (invented in 1712) was fuelled by coal and became a major consumer of coal in the nineteenth century. From the 1830s steam-powered railways used increasing amounts of coal.

As the map below shows, exposed (near the surface) coal was(?)concentrated in certain regions. It was in these regions that industry would increasingly concentrate from the late seventeenth century. The maps below show how, London aside, ares of high population density were overwhelmingly on the coal fields in the late nineteenth century.

Output was dominated by the great north-eastern coalfield (Northumberland and Durham) from whence coal was shipped by sea to London. London and the North-Eastern coalfield grew with each other. In 1600 only around 0.3% of the adult male labour force were miners. By 1911 8.5% or around one in 12 men were miners. There were improvements to productivity in getting coal out of coal mines but productivity at the coal face probably did not rise between 1600 and about 1870. At both dates coal was hewed by men with picks. As a consequence, a given increase in coal output required a proportional increase in labour at the coal face. Hence the explosive growth of output (about 4% per year over most of the period) was sustained by the similarly explosive grow in the number of miners shown in the graph.

Both women and children were employed in mines but by 1800 women were employed underground only on some coalfields. The 1842 Mines and Collieries Act outlawed underground work by women and boys under 10. As can be seen in figure one, by 1851 women made up only around 3.5 per cent of the labour force and these would all have worked above grounds, mainly sorting coal. By 1881, women had virtually disappeared from mining. Boys below 15 made up around 10 percent of the labour force. By 1881, boys below 13 had virtually disappeared. In 1911, boys 13-14 made up around 3 per cent of the labour force.

Children hauling coal in the 1840s. Wellcome Collection, London (CC0 1.0 Public Domain)

Large numbers of men were employed in the transport of coal (which dominated freight transport by weight). But in our maps these men are all reported under transport. Coal heavers, pictured below were employed in shunting coal in and out of boats, waggons, carts and railway trucks.

Coalbrook Dale by Night, Philip James de Loutherbourg, 1801, Science Museum London

W.H. Pyne, British Costumes, Coal heavers

Secondary - Labour force share

The share of the labour force in the secondary sector

Definition: The secondary sector covers anyone making something, whether in a traditional village craft, rural cottage industry (proto-industry)) or in a factory. It includes occupation such as: carpenters, masons, bakers, milliners (people, usually female, making hats), tailors, blacksmiths, shoemakers, weavers, spinners and so on. Our maps show the number of people engaged in the secondary sector expressed as a percentage of all people in the labour force in each group for adult males, adult females, boys 13-14, girls 13-14, boys 10-12, and girls 10-12...

Data: The website currently features occupational data for: adult males from 1600-1911 and 2011; adult females from 1851-1911 and 2011; and children aged 10-12 and 13-14 from 1851-1911.

A warning: Be aware that if, for instance, our maps show that 30 per cent of the female labour force aged 10-12 worked in the secondary sector, this does not mean that 30 per cent of all girls aged 10-12 worked in the secondary sector. This is because many girls of this age were not in the labour force at all (many were in school). This warning applies primarily to women and children whose labour force participation rates, unlike adult men's, were typically much less than 100 per cent between 1851 and 1911. The maps showing labour force shares for women and children should therefore be compared with the maps of labour force participation rates. Read more…

See also: Labour force participation rate, Labour force

Historical overview

Figure one shows the share of the adult male labour force in the secondary sector from 1600 to 1911. Across the seventeenth century there was a major increase in the share of adult males in the secondary sector. The seventeenth century thus emerges as a key period of industrialisation – the shift in the structure of the economy towards the secondary sector. After 1700 or 1750 there was relatively little change. Over one hundred years of scholarship has assumed that the key period for the growth of the secondary sector's relative share of the labour force was during the Industrial Revolution (1750-1850). It is now clear that the structural shift of the economy towards the secondary sector took place earlier, before 1700.

The secondary sector was already large in 1600 at 28 per cent of the male labour force. This is 10 per cent higher than our estimate for 1381 which is 22 per cent. It is likely that much of the growth from 22 per cent to 28 per cent took place in the second half of the sixteenth century, a period in which know the economy was urbanising with the explosive growth of London's population from perhaps 50,000 in 1550 to 200,000 in 1600.

The absence of growth in the secondary sector labour force share during the Industrial Revolution may seem counter-intuitive. However, this was the period of mechanisation and a greatly increased rate of technological change. This led to a major growth of output and productivity: a much larger output could be produced without requiring a larger and larger share of the labour force.

Figure 2 shows the age and sex distribution of the labour force in the secondary sector. Taking the sector as a whole child labour was already at very modest levels by 1851 and declined further to 1911. A sizeable share, perhaps 30 per cent, of the labour force was composed of adult women. These were very heavily concentrated in two main industries: textiles and making clothes. The female share of the secondary sector was likely even larger before the mechanisation of spinning in the late eighteenth century. For a more detailed discussion see the entries on textiles and clothing elsewhere on this site.

The share of the labour force in clothing

Definition: This refers to anyone making clothes. This includes tailors, dressmakers, mantuamakers, milliners and others. The 'labour force' refers to those working (or looking for work) in any sector of the economy. This excludes those engaged in unpaid domestic work ('housewives'), those too old to work and children too young to work or otherwise not working. Our maps show the number of people engaged in clothing expressed as a percentage of all people with an occupation within each population group (adult males, adult females, boys 13-14, girls 13-14, boys 10-12, and girls 10-12).

Data: The website currently features occupational data for: adult males from 1600-1911; adult females from 1851-1911; and children aged 10-12 and 13-14 from 1851-1911.

Interior of a Tailor's Shop

Interior of a Tailor's Shop, Unknown artist, Museum of London

A warning: Be aware that if, for instance, our maps show that twenty per cent of the female labour force aged 10-12 worked in making clothes, this does not mean that twenty per cent of all girls aged 10-12 worked in making clothes. This is because many girls of this age were not in the labour force at all (many were in school). This warning applies primarily to women and children whose labour force participation rates, unlike adult men's, were typically much less than 100 per cent between 1851 and 1911. The maps showing labour force shares for women and children should therefore be compared with the maps of labour force participation rates. Read more…

See also: Labour force participation rate, Labour force

Historical overview

Along with making cloth (textiles) the making of clothes was one of the largest occupations in the early modern period. As figure 1 shows as early as 1600 four per cent of adult males were working as tailors. This figure climbed to 5 per cent by the mid seventeenth century. Thereafter the share of the male labour force stabilised before declining over the eighteenth century,

This apparent decline in the eighteenth century is misleading. We know that from the late seventeenth century more and more women were involved in making clothes, but we cannot, as yet, measure this. By the mid nineteenth century (see below) women made up three quarters of the labour force. It is likely that the overall labour force making clothes grew across the whole of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and that by 1800 the average English or Welsh man and women were substantially better clothed than their Elizabethan predecessors. Such a trend is seen in shoemaking where no parallel feminisation occurred.

The sharp decline in the labour force share of tailors over the second half of the nineteenth century was caused by the spread of the sewing machine from the 1840s. This greatly increased labour productivity and therefore reduced the numbers of men and women required to make clothes.

As can be seen in figure two below, in the second half of the nineteenth century making clothes employed far more adult women than adult men with around three quarters of the labour force being adult women. There was some shift towards women over time, likely as a result of the introduction of the sewing machine from the 1840s. Girls were also employed in modest numbers. Employment of boys was extremely limited.

The Radical Tailor

The radical tailor, J. Campbell, The Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery, University of Leeds

The share of the labour force making shoes

Definitions: This refers to anyone making shoes and boots. This includes shoemakers, cordwainers (another term for shoemaker), cobblers (people mending shoes) and clickers (someone cutting out the leather for the upper part of the shoe – not the sole). Our maps show the number of people engaged in shoemaking expressed as a percentage of the labour force for adult males, adult females, boys 13-14, girls 13-14, boys 10-12, and girls 10-12.

The Village Cobbler

The Village Cobbler, Thomas Hill (active 1878-1913), Wolverhampton Art Gallery.

Data: The website currently features occupational data for adult males from 1600-1911; adult females from 1851-1911 and children aged 10—12 and 13-14 from 1851-1911.

At the shoemaker's shop, British School, c. 1825, The National Trust The Box, Plymouth

See also: Labour force participation rate, Labour force

Historical overview

'Throughout the century 1750-1850 the production of leather and leather goods was, by value, the second or third largest manufacturing industry in Britain." Clarkson 1989, 466. The manufacture of footwear accounted for around 60-70% of total leather output during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Shoe Maker. Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge 1827, 291

By the end of the seventeenth century only the poorest residents of England did not possess footwear. Gregory King, an individual described as the "first great economic statistician", suggested this figure stood at a mere 100,000 people, less than 2% of the population at the time. In the late eighteenth century, British writers who toured France during this period noted their surprise at the widespread lack of footwear as compared to British citizens, with the average resident having owned two pairs of shoes.

Our maps show that by the end of the eighteenth century shoemakers made up 3-4 per cent of the adult male labour force almost everywhere. These high figures are perhaps unsurprising, for much of its history. The profession of shoemaker was typically a small-scale operation, primarily conducted within small workshops often doubling as a retail establishment. The shoes were made-to-order, bespoke products were unusual until the development of the manufacturing process towards the end of the eighteenth century.

Between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, considerable changes occurred within the shoemaking trade. The advent of new transportation methods, the dawn of early mechanisation tools, and the developing urban centres brought about the establishment of larger 'retail centres', all contributing to the dawn of larger-scale shoe producers. The larger-scale production of footwear did not initially arise for the retail consumer however, instead, it emerged as a method to supply the British Army of the late eighteenth century. Footwear was required for thousands of feet of various shapes and sizes and it was needed quickly, giving rise to the increasingly common usage of ready-made boots and shoes, each labelled with a standardised shoe size. It was not long before this method of mass production began supplying the growing British retail markets.

Cottage interior, a cobbler. Nicholas Matthew Condy (1816-1851)

These developments contributed to an increased concentration of shoemakers in Staffordshire and Northamptonshire two regions with long histories of shoe production, but which became national centres of shoe production towards the end of the eighteenth century. For example, upwards of 1,000 people were employed in producing shoes for army supplies, the London market, and for exportation across the globe by the end of the eighteenth century, producing 7-8,000 pairs of shoes each week. This increased to 10-12,000 pairs during periods of war. The move away from bespoke products to standard sizes of shoes allowed for increased production, with many Northampton shoemakers sourcing ready-made cuts of shoe leather that were assembled at the shop.

As can be seen in figure one below, the national share of the male labour force grew steadily over the period from 1600 to 1851 from 2% to just over 4% of adult males. The evidence suggests that the average man and women in Victorian Britain was better shod that his/her Tudor ancestor. It is striking that in 1851 fully one man in twenty-five was making shoes. The sharp decline from 1815 to 1911 is almost certainly down to the widespread diffusion of the sewing machine in this period. This greatly enhanced labour productivity but inevitably meant fewer men were required to produce an expanding number of shoes per year.

The extent of female employment within the shoe-making industry remains difficult to measure with confidence before 1851 and even thereafter. From the time of the 1851 census we get a clearer picture. As can be seen from figure two, women made up around 15 percent of the reported labour force between 1851 and 1911. However, this may be an undercount as women who worked 'irregularly; were unlikely to be reported. Child labour appears to have been of little importance. Boys aged 13 and 14 made up two to three percent of the labour force throughout the period. Girls 13-14 made up 0.4 per cent of the labour force in 1851 and declined in importance thereafter. The employment of younger children was insignificant.

Shoemaker's Workshop

The Shoemaker

The Shoemaker, Henry Walton, 1800. Northampton Museums and Art Gallery

Stuart Henderson and Leigh Shaw-Taylor, 2023

The share of the labour force in metal trades

Definition: This refers to anyone either making metals or making things out of metal. This includes the ubiquitous village blacksmiths who made up between one and four per cent of the male labour force almost everywhere as well as occupations which were highly spatially concentrated like nailers (people making nails), scythe makers (a scythe is an tool with a curved blade used to cut crops), forgemen (men working in forges were iron was refined), tin men (men who made things from tin) and brass founders (men making brass in foundries). Our maps show the number of people engaged in metals expressed as a percentage of adult males, adult females, boys 13-14, girls 13-14, boys 10-12, and girls 10-12.

Data: The website currently features occupational data for: adult males from 1600 to 1911; adult females from 1851-1911; and children aged 10-12 and 13-14 from 1851-1911.

A warning: Be aware that if, for instance, our maps show that 0.5 per cent of the female labour force aged 10-12 worked in construction, this does not mean that 0.5 per cent of all girls aged 10-12 worked in construction. This is because many girls of this age were not in the labour force at all (many were in school). This warning applies primarily to women and children whose labour force participation rates, unlike adult men's, were typically much less than 100 per cent between 1851 and 1911. The maps showing labour force shares for women and children should therefore be compared with the maps of labour force participation rates. Read more…

See also: Labour force participation rate, Labour force

A Steam Hammer at Work

A steam hammer at work, James Hall Nasmyth, 1871. Science Museum.

A Country Blacksmith Disputing upon the Price of Iron, and the Price Charged to the Butcher for Shoeing his Poney

A country blacksmith disputing upon the price of iron and upon the price charged to the butcher for shoeing his pony, Joseph Mallard William Turner, 1775-1851. Tate Britain. Photo credit: Tate.

Historical overview

Figure 1 shows the trend in the share of the labour force employed in making and working metals from 1600 to 1911. From 1600 to 1841 there was steady but unspectacular growth from around 2.8 per cent to 5.5 percent followed by much more rapid growth from 1841 to 1901. Growth from 1600-1841 implies an increasing access to objects, notably tools, made of metal. The spectacular growth after 1841 was no doubt partly driven by the building of Britain's railways and by the exports of trains and rails to other countries,

As can be seen in figure 2, metal working was a predominantly male occupation in the nineteenth century. This was also generally true in the early modern period and during the eighteenth century. It was also an industry which apparently made relatively little use of child labour, perhaps because boys simply didn't have the physical strength required. One notable area of employment for women was nail-making – see the high levels of female employment in various parishes west of Birmingham.

The share of the labour force in textiles

Definition: This refers to anyone making yarn (thread) or cloth or involved in any of the preparatory or finishing processes in the manufacture of textiles. This includes weavers (making cloth from yarn), spinners (making yarn), dyers (dying yarn or cloth), combers (preparing worsted for spinning), carders (preparing wool for spinning), sorters (sorting raw wool prior to combing or carding) and others. Our maps show the share of the labour force in textiles for adult males, adult females, boys 13-14, girls 13-14, boys 10-12, and girls 10-12. This is the number of people engaged in textiles expressed as a percentage of all people with an occupation within each group.

Data: The website currently features occupational data for: adult males from 1600 to 1911; adult females from 1851-1911; and children aged 10-12 and 13-14 from 1851-1911.

Cottage Interior

A warning: Be aware that if, for instance, our maps show that two per cent of the female labour force aged 10-12 worked in textiles, this does not mean that two per cent of all girls aged 10-12 worked in textiles. This is because many girls of this age were not in the labour force at all (many were in school). This warning applies primarily to women and children whose labour force participation rates, unlike adult men's, were typically much less than 100 per cent between 1851 and 1911. The maps showing labour force shares for women and children should therefore be compared with the maps of labour force participation rates. Read more…

See also: Labour force participation rate, Labour force

Historical overview

From the medieval period to the late-nineteenth century, the textile industry was the largest employer of labour in manufacturing. In the medieval period virtually all textile production was wool cloth. From the late sixteenth century, the 'new draperies' or worsted (a type of cloth confusingly also made of wool) began to take off. By the eighteenth century there were also smaller industries producing linen, silk and cotton. The output of the cotton industry began to grow explosively (see below) in the late eighteenth century following the inventions of Hargreaves (the spinning jenny, 1764/5), Arkwright (the water frame, 1770) and Crompton (the mule, 1779).

The early cotton spinning mills were powered by water and were often in remote rural locations. From the 1780s, steam power began to be applied and cotton mills were increasingly located in urban areas. with a ready supply of labour. As will be apparent from figure one, the explosive growth of cotton textiles did not lead to increases in the share of the labour force in textiles. While male textile employment had grown in the seventeenth century as a share of the labour force it began a continuous decline from around 1700. New and improved technologies meant more (much more, in fact) could be produced per worker, which explains why rising output could coincide with a falling share of employment in this sector.

The productivity growth in spinning cotton between 1760 and 1830 was astounding (see figure below). This was historically unprecedented and no other industry improved productivity quite so spectacularly during the Industrial Revolution. The time required to spin one pound of cotton fell from500 hours to 30 minutes.

As can be seen in figure two, textiles in the second half of the nineteenth century employed somewhat more adult women than adult men. There was some shift towards women over time, likely as a result of the ongoing mechanising of weaving, with women typically operating power-looms. Prior to the mechanisation of spinning in the late eighteenth-century women spinning may have outnumbered men, who were primarily weaving, by as much as five or six to one. That would imply as many as 60 per cent of women involved in the textile industry to some degree in 1700 when 10 of adult males worked in textiles.

Both male and female children were employed. It is important to recognise that there was nothing new about child labour. Child labour is as old as human history. Two things were new. First the employment of children in factories. Note the young girl under the machinery in the picture below. The second novelty was the development of a sentiment in society that child labour was a bad thing which should be restricted and eventually abolished. The society produced by the Industrial Revolution was the first society rich enough to contemplate ending child labour. As can be seen in figure 2, the employment of 10-12 year olds had close to disappeared by 1911 but the employment of 13-14 year olds continued.

IMG_0009

Samuel Crompton's 'mule' (1844, invented 1779). Source: Chaloner, W.H., and Musson, A.E., A visual history of modern Britain: Industry and Technology (1963).

The share of the labour force in building and construction

Definition: Building and construction refers to anyone employed in the building industry. This includes carpenters, masons, thatchers (making thatched roofs), bricklayers, slaters, roofers and others. The term 'builder' only became widespread in the late nineteenth century. Our maps show the number of people engaged in construction expressed as a percentage of all people in the labour force for adult males, adult females, boys 13-14, girls 13-14, boys 10-12, and girls 10-12.

Data: We currently have occupational data for: adult males from 1381-2011; adult females from 1851-2011; and children aged 10-12 and 13-14 from 1851-1911.

A warning: Be aware that if, for instance, our maps show that 0.5 per cent of the female labour force aged 10-12 worked in construction, this does not mean that 0.5 per cent of all girls aged 10-12 worked in construction. This is because many girls of this age were not in the labour force at all (many were in school). This warning applies primarily to women and children whose labour force participation rates, unlike adult men's, were typically much less than 100 per cent between 1851 and 1911. The maps showing labour force shares for women and children should therefore be compared with the maps of labour force participation rates. Read more…

See also: Labour force participation rate, labour force..

IMG_1527

A thatched house, timber framed. Photo: LS-T

Historical overview

Figure 1 shows a long-term rise in the share of construction between 1600 and the early nineteenth century from around four per cent of the adult male labour force to approaching ten per cent. We cannot tell what share of the building labour force was repairing and renovating existing buildings compared with building new ones but today they are almost equal. The growth in employment suggests a rising share of income being spent on housing across the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. We know that in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries houses went from typically being a single room with a hole in the roof to let the smoke out to having separate rooms, mostly on two floors, with chimneys and glass windows. Much of the growth in employment comes between 1650 and 1750 when the population was not increasing. Over this time housing standards probably improved considerably. The stagnant share of the labour force in construction across most of the nineteenth century is surprising given the unprecedented pace of urbanisation in this period. On the one hand the increasing use of bricks and slates may have improved labour productivity in construction. On the other hand, housing standards may have declined.

As can be seen in figure 2, construction was an overwhelmingly male occupation in the nineteenth century. This was also true in the early modern period and during the eighteenth century. It was also an industry which apparently made relatively little use of child labour, perhaps because boys simply didn't have the physical strength required.

Old Moss Lane, Bury, 1860

Old Moss Lane, Bury, 1860, James 'Clock' Shaw (1836-1915), Bury Art Museum, Photo credit: Bury Art Museum. Brick and stone houses with slate roofs.

Tertiary - Labour force share

The share of the labour force in the tertiary sector

Definition: The tertiary sector is another term for the service sector and broadly covers everyone not producing a tangible physical product. This includes clerks (clerical worker), domestic servants, cooks, washerwomen, innkeepers, lawyers, secretaries, coachmen, sailors and train drivers. Our maps show the share of the labour force in the tertiary sector, for adult males, adult females, boys 13-14, girls 13-14, boys 10-12, and girls 10-12. This is the number of people engaged in the tertiary sector expressed as a percentage of all people with an occupation within each group.

Data: The website currently features occupational data for: adult males from 1600-1911 and 2011; adult females from 1851-1911 and 2011; and children aged 10-12 and 13-14 from 1851-1911.

A warning: Be aware that if, for instance, our maps show that 40 per cent of the female labour force aged 10-12 worked in the tertiary sector, this does not mean that 40 per cent of all girls aged 10-12 worked in the tertiary sector. This is because many girls of this age were not in the labour force at all (many were in school). This warning applies primarily to women and children whose labour force participation rates, unlike adult men's, were typically much less than 100 per cent between 1851 and 1911. The maps showing labour force shares for women and children should therefore be compared with the maps of labour force participation rates. Read more…

See also: Labour force participation rate, Labour force

Historical overview

The growth of the tertiary sector is often thought to be of relatively recent origin, perhaps dating from the 1950s. In fact, the tertiary sector has, as figure one shows, been growing since at least the beginning of the seventeenth century. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries growth was slow but steady. In the nineteenth century growth was much more rapid. The tertiary sector is made of up of three sub-sectors: retailing and wholesaling, services and professions (a rag-bag category which includes domestic services) and transport. All three grew in unison. A very high proportion of male tertiary sector employment was concerned with moving the products of the primary and secondary sectors around the country. Goods were bought and sold by retailers and wholesalers and moved by transport workers. These two sub-sectors accounted for over half of male tertiary employment. Many in the services and professions, accountants, lawyers, publicans and others were at least in part supporting the movement of goods and the country. Over time the population became more urban and the production of secondary sector became more spatially concentrated. Meanwhile output was growing more rapidly than population. These tendencies were much stronger in the nineteenth century than in the seventeen and eighteenth centuries. Therefore,more people were required to move all these extra goods over increasing distances. This explains much of the growth of the tertiary sector and why tertiary growth occurred in all regions – in sharp contrast to the secondary sector..

Figure 2 shows the age and sex distribution of the labour force in the tertiary sector. Taking the sector as a whole, child labour was already at very modest levels by 1851 and declined further to 1911. In 1851 48 per cent, of the tertiary labour force was composed of adult women. This had declined to 39 per cent by 1911. Within the service sector women about two-thirds of women, were in domestic service. For a more detailed discussion see the relevant entries on tertiary sector sub-sectors.

The share of the labour force in selling and dealing

Definition: This refers to anyone focussed on buying or selling goods. Sellers refers specifically to shopkeepers of any kind while dealers refer to the wholesalers who supplied the shopkeepers with goods. In practice the two categories were often blurred as shopkeepers in larger towns acted as wholesalers to shopkeepers in nearby small towns. Shopkeepers includes, in addition to those term 'shopkeepers', chandlers (dealer in household goods), grocers (selling tea, coffee, fruit and vegetables) and ironmongers (selling iron goods) . Dealers primarily refers to merchants or wholesalers. Note this category does not include butchers or bakers who are considered to have been in the secondary sector (making bread and turning live animals into meat ready for cooking). The 'labour force' refers to those working (or looking for work) in any sector of the economy. Our maps show the number of people engaged in textiles expressed as a percentage of all adult males, adult females, boys 13-14, girls 13-14, boys 10-12, and girls 10-12 who have an occupation..

Data: The website currently features occupational data for: adult males from 1600 to 1911; adult females from 1851-1911; and children aged 10-12 and 13-14 from 1851-1911.

A warning: Be aware that if, for instance, our maps show that five per cent of the female labour force aged 10-12 worked in selling and dealing, this does not mean that five per cent of all girls aged 10-12 worked in selling and dealing. This is because many girls of this age were not in the labour force at all (many were in school). This warning applies primarily to women and children whose labour force participation rates, unlike adult men's, were typically much less than 100 per cent between 1851 and 1911. The maps showing labour force shares for women and children should therefore be compared with the maps of labour force participation rates. Read more…

See also: Labour force participation rate, Labour force

Historical overview

In 1794 Napoleon famously quipped that Britain was a nation of shopkeepers. This was not new in the late eighteenth century. As can be seen in figure 1, dealers and wholesalers already approached two per cent of the male labour force as early as 1600. The share of retailers and wholesalers grew across the seventeenth century, then grew more slowly in the eighteenth century, but multiplied rapidly over the nineteenth century. By 1911 one man in eleven worked in retail or wholesale.

The secondary sector often concentrated in particular regions and cities. Mining was inevitably spatially concentrated. The agricultural population was necessarily dispersed. As the economy became more complex a higher proportion of the labour force was required in the tertiary sector to act as intermediaries buying and selling the products of the primary and secondary sectors. Tertiary workers were required in all areas. Since the secondary sector and mining was in increasingly concentrated while agriculture and the tertiary sector were dispersed, the average distance between producers and consumers increased.

Figure 2 shows the share of the labour force in retail and wholesale by sex and age 1851-1911. Many shops were run by women. However, if we take the census at face value few children worked in shops and women made up only one quarter of the labour force. However, it seems likely that the wives of male shopkeepers normally worked in the shop with their husbands and that children were put to work as required. In fact, from 1851-1871 when the census data were tabulated and published it was simply assumed that the wives of shop-keepers worked in the shop. From 1881, it was assumed they did not. Likely at all dates family members generally assisted in the shop at least some of the time.

Norwich Fish Market, NorfolkNorwich Fish Market, Norfolk, David Hodgson 1988-1864, Norfolk Museums Service.

The share of the labour force in services and professions

Definition: This is a very diverse category consisting of all the service sector occupations not found in either sellers and dealers or in transport. It includes doctors, lawyers, accountants, bankers, innkeepers, washerwomen, cooks, lodging-house keepers (a person, usually female taking in lodgers) and domestic servants. Domestic servants, predominantly female, were the largest grouping within the sub-sector. Our maps show the share of the labour force in services and professions for adult males, adult females, boys 13-14, girls 13-14, boys 10-12, and girls 10-12. This is the number of people engaged in dealing and services and professions (a miscellaneous category including expressed as a percentage of all people with an occupation within each population sub-group.

Data: The website currently features occupational data for: adult males from 1600 to 1911; adult females from 1851-1911; and children aged 10-12 and 13-14 from 1851-1911.

A Visit to a Lawyer

A visit to the lawyer, Erskine Nicol 1825-1904, Paisley Museum and Art Gallery

A warning: Be aware that if, for instance, our maps show that one per cent of the female labour force aged 10-12 worked in services and professions this does not mean that one per cent of all girls aged 10-12 worked in services and professions. This is because many girls of this age were not in the labour force at all (many were in school). This warning applies primarily to women and children whose labour force participation rates, unlike adult men's, were typically much less than 100 per cent between 1851 and 1911. The maps showing labour force shares for women and children should therefore be compared with the maps of labour force participation rates. Read more…

See also: Labour force participation rate, Labour force

The Careless Servant

The careless servant, Frances Wheatley 1747-1801, Walker Art Gallery. Photo credit: Walker Art Gallery.

Historical overview

Figure one shows services and professions as a share of the adult male labour force from 1600-1911. By 1600 the sub-sector already accounted for four per cent of the adult male labour force. The share nearly doubled between 1650 and 1750 before plateauing across the second half of the eighteenth century. Growth was very rapid across the nineteenth century reaching 17 per cent of the adult male labour force by 1911. Because professions and services was a diverse grouping sources of growth were also diverse, including, amongst other things, the growing importance of commercial (managers, clerks, secretaries) and professional (doctors, lawyers, professors etc) services linked to the developing economy.

Figure 2 shows the share of the labour force in services and professions by sex and age 1851-1911. Adult women loom very large because this group contains domestic service, the largest single employer of women in the late nineteenth century. Girls 13-14 were predominantly servants but declined in importance over time as child labour declined. This sub-sector appears to have made little use of boys – though irregular work will not be adequately captured by the census.

The share of the labour force in domestic service

Definition: In the nineteenth century, female domestic servants (maids, cooks, etcera.who lived in the households of their masters and mistresses) were very widely employed amongst the middle ranks of society as well as in the higher echelons of society. In wealthier households one might find housekeepers and cooks as well as general servants. Male domestic servants such as butlers, footmen, coachmen and so on were only found in more elite households. In the nineteenth century domestic service became the largest employer of female labour, supplanting the textile industry which had been the largest employer of female labour in the eighteenth century. Our maps show the share of the labour force in domestic for adult males, adult females, boys 13-14, girls 13-14, boys 10-12, and girls 10-12. This is the number of people engaged in domestic service expressed as a percentage of the labour force within each population group.

Data: The website currently features occupational data for: adult males from 1851 to 1911; adult females from 1851-1911; and children aged 10-12 and 13-14 from 1851-1911.

An English Family at Tea

An English family at tea, Joseph van Aken c.1699-1749, Tate Gallery. Photo credit: Tate.

A warning: Be aware that if, for instance, our maps show that one per cent of the female labour force aged 10-12 worked in domestic service this does not mean that one per cent of all girls aged 10-12 worked in domestic service. This is because many girls of this age were not in the labour force at all (many were in school). This warning applies primarily to women and children whose labour force participation rates, unlike adult men's, were typically much less than 100 per cent between 1851 and 1911. The maps showing labour force shares for women and children should therefore be compared with the maps of labour force participation rates. Read more…

See also: Labour force participation rate.

Chetham's Kitchen

Chetham's Kitchen, George Henry Wimpenny (1857-1939), Chetham's Library..

Historical overview

Figure one shows domestic service as a share of the adult male labour force from 1851-1911. The sharp fluctuations from one census to the next almost certainly reflect changing census enumeration practices (that is the way of counting and reporting occupations) rather than any real change in patterns of employment. The safest conclusion is that around one per cent of adult males were domestic servants 1851-1911.

Figure 2 shows the share of the labour force in domestic service by sex and age 1851-1911. Over 80 per cent of domestic servants were females 15 years older. Girls 13-14 made up around 5 per cent of labour force in 1851 but declined in importance to around 2.5 per cent in 1911 as child labour declined. The employment of boys 13-14 was very limited.

The share of the labour force in transport

Definition: Transport refers to occupations involved in moving people and goods around but also information as is the case for communications workers such as messengers or telegraph operators. This category includes mariners, sailors, ships' captains, boat men, barge men, watermen, coachmen, ostlers (a person, usually male, employed to look after horses), grooms (a person, usually male employed to look after horses at an inn), waggoners (a waggon driver), porters (people, usually male, employed to carry luggage or other goods), carriers (a person, usually male engaged in the movement of goods), train drivers, railway labourers and railway stokers (men shovelling coal into the engine of a train). Our maps show the share of the labour force transport, for adult males, adult females, boys 13-14, girls 13-14, boys 10-12, and girls 10-12. This is the number of people engaged in transport expressed as a percentage of all people in the labour force within each population group.

Data: The website currently features occupational data for: adult males from 1600 to 1911; adult females from 1851-1911; and children aged 10-12 and 13-14 from 1851-1911.

Viaduct across the Sankey Valley, from Bury's Liverpool and Manchester Railway, 1831 - artfinder 122455.jpg

The Sankey Viaduct, Henry Pyall, 1831.

A warning: Be aware that if, for instance, our maps show that one tenth of one per cent of the female labour force aged 10-12 worked in domestic service this does not mean that one tenth of one per cent of all girls aged 10-12 worked in domestic service. This is because many girls of this age were not in the labour force at all (many were in school). This warning applies primarily to women and children whose labour force participation rates, unlike adult men's, were typically much less than 100 per cent between 1851 and 1911. The maps showing labour force shares for women and children should therefore be compared with the maps of labour force participation rates. Read more…

See also: Labour force participation rate, Labour force

London and the River Thames from One Tree Hill, Greenwich Park, Jan Griffier (c.1652-1718), National Maritime Museum. Photo credit: National Maritime Museum Greenwich.

Historical overview

Figure one shows transport as a share of the adult male labour force from 1600-1911. Together with mining this was the fastest growing sector between 1600 and 1911 rising from under two percent to over 13 per cent of the adult male labour force. This was made up largely of freight and passenger transport. Internal freight transport was dominated by the movement of coal around the country. Employment in transport was growing fast from 1600, but even faster after 1841. This period of very rapid growth after 1841 is coincident with the development of the railway network. Railways might be expected to have reduced the requirement for labour but in practice this was not so. The loading and unloading of goods, especially coal remained labour intensive. More importantly, road transport increased alongside the spread of railways as carts, waggons and coaches were needed in ever increasing numbers to allow moving goods and people in and out of railway stations and to their final destinations

Figure 2 shows the share of the labour force in transport 1851-1911. As can be seen this was an almost exclusively male industry. Boys were employed extensively, particularly as messengers but their importance declined over time as child labour waned.

Coach in a Snowstorm

Coach in a snowstorm, Richard Dodd Widdas (1826-1885), 1875, Steetlife Museum, Hull. Photo credit: Streetlife Museum


A warning about labour force shares

This warning applies to each of the variables on labour force shares.

For the period 1851-1911, labour force participation rates for women and children were often much lower than 100 per cent. Maps of female and child labour force shares should therefore always be viewed together with maps of labour force participation rates. Because adult male participation rates were typically over 90 per cent, this is much less important for adult males.

The map for 1851 in the screenshot below shows that there were very large areas of England and Wales where over 50 per cent of boys aged 10-12 who worked did so in agriculture. But, this does not mean that over 50 per cent of all boys aged 10-12 in these areas worked in agriculture, because many boys were not working at all. The map in the second screenshot below shows that over large areas of England and Wales, less than 40 per cent of boys aged 10-12 were in fact working.

Screenshot

Screenshot

Compare boys aged 10-12 in Figures 1 and 2 below. In Figure 1, we can see that in 1851 in England and Wales as a whole, a little over 30 per cent of all boys aged 10-12 who were working, worked in agriculture. In Figure 2, we can see that in 1851 only around 8 per cent of all boys (whether working or not) worked in agriculture.

Figure 1

Figure 2

It should be noted here that the census tended to record only those working 'regularly'. Since many women and children worked in agriculture irregularly, for instance at harvest time, our data will, to some degree, under-report employment in agriculture. There can be little doubt that if we had data on actual employment in, say, August during the grain harvest, we would find substantially higher employment of women and children than is shown here.