For the Weekend...
Why Was the 20th Century Not a Chinese Century?: An Outtake from "Slouching Towards Utopia?: An Economic History of the Long 20th Century"

Judy Stephenson: Looking for work? Or looking for workers? Days and hours of work in London construction in the eighteenth century: "New information and data on how work and pay actually operated for skilled and semi-skilled men on large London construction projects in the early 1700s...

...and for the first time, offers detailed firm level evidence on the number of days per year worked by men. Construction workers’ working days were bounded by structural factors of both supply and demand, men worked a far lower number of days than has been assumed until now. This has implications for our understanding of the ‘industrious revolution’, and industrialisation.....

Until we have better research on search and matching costs within all industries 180 days per year is a more robust and empirical estimate of the number of days construction workers worked per annum. Eighteenth century urban building craftsmen and labourers’ working year was bounded by structural demand factors of seasonality and the building process, frictional costs of finding regular employment, and bounds on their own ability to work at high physical intensity. The evidence from a unique single firm source on a large and well-resourced site indicates that on average men could only work 5.2 days per week in the long run, and if they did not have a regular employment relationship they worked less than thirteen weeks in the year for an employer. Employees who had worked with an employer in two years previously would have still only had 35 weeks work with him on average, equivalent to 182 days’ work per year....

Building construction workers were never more than about 8 per cent of the population, and this data comes from the very early eighteenth century, so do these finding have any bearing on theories about industriousness and industrialization? In short, yes, because at present we use builders wages as a proxy for the average of all wages. If the amount they earned per day was lower, and the number of days they worked were fewer then annual incomes would have been about 40 % lower than the current predicted £31.00 - £37.00 for craftsmen, and £20.00 - £25.00 for labourers (table 11). What we have thought of as a labourers income was actually a craftsman’s. On this basis a ‘respectability’ basket could only have been attained by craftsmen, not labourers.50 The implication for ‘divergence’ debates could be profound, but is that household composition, substitution and prices may also have been different to what we currently think.


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