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Unskilled labour before the Industrial Revolution

Paker, Meredith, Stephenson, Judy and Wallis, Patrick (2021) Unskilled labour before the Industrial Revolution. Economic History Working Papers (322). London School of Economics and Political Science, London, UK.

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Abstract

The Industrial Revolution is seen as a major turning point in the management of labour, bringing about employment practices that gave structure and stability to the workforce. This paper provides evidence that employers were using hiring and retention strategies to stabilize the unskilled workforce at least a century before industrialization. We exploit the comprehensive employment records that survive from the rebuilding of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London (1672–1748) to reconstruct and analyse the employment history of over one thousand general building labourers, the benchmark category of unskilled workers for economic historians. We show that St. Paul’s was able to stabilize its workforce by establishing a core group of long-standing workers. Tenure was incentivized with more days of work each month on the site, priority in the queue for retention and rehiring in periods of low labour demand, and the opportunity to earn additional income as watchmen. These strategies reduced turnover and may have allowed the Cathedral to retain the most productive workers, reshaping our understanding of when modern employment practices emerged.

Item Type: Monograph (Working Paper)
Official URL: https://www.lse.ac.uk/Economic-History/Working-Pap...
Additional Information: © 2021 The Authors
Divisions: Economic History
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
JEL classification: N - Economic History > N3 - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Income, and Wealth > N33 - Economic History: Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Income and Wealth: Europe: Pre-1913
N - Economic History > N6 - Manufacturing and Construction > N63 - Europe: Pre-1913
N - Economic History > N8 - Micro-Business History > N83 - Europe: Pre-1913
J - Labor and Demographic Economics > J2 - Time Allocation, Work Behavior, and Employment Determination and Creation; Human Capital; Retirement > J21 - Labor Force and Employment, Size, and Structure
J - Labor and Demographic Economics > J2 - Time Allocation, Work Behavior, and Employment Determination and Creation; Human Capital; Retirement > J22 - Time Allocation and Labor Supply
J - Labor and Demographic Economics > J2 - Time Allocation, Work Behavior, and Employment Determination and Creation; Human Capital; Retirement > J23 - Employment Determination; Job Creation; Demand for Labor; Self-Employment
Date Deposited: 28 Jan 2021 08:30
Last Modified: 30 Jan 2021 00:23
URI: http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/id/eprint/108562

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