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The Foundations of Female Entrepreneurship: Enterprise, Home and Household in London, c. 1800-1870

Author(s):Kay, Alison C.
Reviewer(s):Burnette, Joyce

Published by EH.NET (March 2010)

Alison C. Kay, The Foundations of Female Entrepreneurship: Enterprise, Home and Household in London, c. 1800-1870. New York: Routledge, 2009. xv + 185 pp. $138 (hardcover), ISBN: 978-0-415-43174-3

Reviewed for EH.NET by Joyce Burnette, Department of Economics, Wabash College.

In the tradition of Sanderson (1996) and Philips (2006), Alison Kay argues that women were active in business during the nineteenth century. Women were not confined to a separate sphere, and couverture did not prevent them from operating as entrepreneurs. Strikingly, Kay concludes that the story of women in business is neither a story of a lost golden age, nor one of emancipation, but a story of continuity across history. Whatever the rhetoric, businesswomen were consistently involved in business throughout the Victorian period.

This book provides the best data yet on businesswomen in London. The main source for the book, and its main contribution, are samples of male and female business owners from records of the Sun Fire insurance company. Fire insurance records were less likely to be skewed by social expectations than other records, and include businesses that trade directories do not. Both male and female business owners had the need and the opportunity to insure their business assets. Since the records are contracts, not advertisements, the information should be accurate; women owners would not have hidden behind male relatives because, as Kay notes, ?misrepresentation of proprietorship could be taken as fraud? (p. 50).

The female sample includes all policies covering business assets that were issued to women in 1747, 1761, 1851, and 1861. There are 634 such policies. For comparison Kay also collects a five-percent sample of male policies, using policies taken out in October of the same years. Though she is mainly interested in businesswomen, the male sample is necessary because it allows Kay to compare women to men. The importance of the male sample can be seen by comparison to Lewis?s (2009) study of businesswomen in Albany; Lewis measures the median life of a female-owned business, but with no comparable number for male-owned businesses it is hard to say whether women?s businesses were short-lived or long-lived.

Kay finds that women operated over the whole range of businesses. While women were more likely than men to operate in the textile and clothing trades, and less likely than men to operate in manufacturing, women owned businesses across the range of industries. Women were certainly not confined to a small number of trades. While dressmaking/millinery was by far the most popular trade for women, only 15 percent of the women taking out policies in 1851 were milliners or dressmakers. Kay does not report the average or median insured value by gender, but does show the distribution of insured value across categories. Women were more likely to have capital below ?100 and less likely to have capital over ?2000, but women were present in all categories.

By linking the insurance policies to the 1851 and 1861 censuses, Kay is able to determine the family status of the women in her sample for those years. While the majority of female business owners were widows, there were also significant numbers of single and married women. Many were mothers; one-third of businesswomen were living with children under age 14. Kay shows that it was relatively rare for a businesswoman to live with a sister, or with a son who was a likely heir to the business. Households headed by businesswomen were more likely to employ servants than the average female-headed household.

Chapter Four examines trade cards from the period. Before the tax on newspaper advertisements was abolished in 1853, few businesses advertised in newspapers, and trade cards were a more common form of advertisement. Since trade cards do not survive systematically, they cannot be used quantitatively, but are used to provide a broader picture of businesses owned by women. Fire insurance records reveal a greater number of lodging houses than do the Post Office Directories. The directories tend to include the larger establishments, but not the smaller ones. Lodging houses varied greatly in quality, and in the quality of their clientele. The majority of female lodging-house keepers were spinsters, and most were in their 30s or 40s.

Some businesswomen specialized in renting property. Men and women seem to have been equally likely to invest their assets in property. Kay argues that women who rented property should be seen as active businesswomen rather than as passive rentiers. She points out that men managing properties would be seen as businessmen, and that women should be treated similarly.

Kay has given us valuable information on businesswomen in London, and I hope that she continues her research in order to provide answers to other questions. If she followed these businessmen and businesswomen over time, Kay could determine whether businesses owned by men and women had different failure rates, or different growth rates. These and other questions could potentially be answered by delving further into fire insurance records.


Susan Ingalls Lewis, 2009, Unexceptional Women: Female Proprietors in Mid-Nineteenth-Century Albany, New York, 1830-1885, Columbus: Ohio State University Press.

Nicola Phillips, 2006, Women in Business, 1700-1850, Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell Press.

Elizabeth Sanderson, 1996, Women and Work in Eighteenth-Century Edinburgh, New York: St. Martin?s Press.

Joyce Burnette is Professor of Economics at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana. Her book, Gender, Work and Wages in Industrial Revolution Britain, discusses the role of market forces in determining the wages and occupations of women workers during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. She can be reached at

Subject(s):Social and Cultural History, including Race, Ethnicity and Gender
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Time Period(s):19th Century

The Industrious Revolution: Consumer Behavior and the Household Economy, 1650 to the Present

Author(s):Vries, Jan de
Reviewer(s):Voth, Hans-Joachim

Published by EH.NET (May 2009)

Jan de Vries, The Industrious Revolution: Consumer Behavior and the Household Economy, 1650 to the Present. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008. xii + 327 pp., $23 (paperback), ISBN: 978-0-521-71925-4.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Hans-Joachim Voth, Department of Economics, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona.

This is an impossible book. Had someone told me a few years back that somebody ? anybody ? was trying to write a book so short, yet so ambitious in scope, I would have laughed and filed it under ?impossible and pretentious?– and I would have been wrong. In his latest book, Jan de Vries sets out to examine the “Industrious Revolution,” following on from his Economic History Association Presidential Address (published in the Journal of Economic History in 1994). The final result is closer to a comprehensive overview of work, consumption, and well-being in Europe and North America, from the early modern period to the present. It is written from a particular vantage point: that of the household. The book represents a tremendous accomplishment: it is staggeringly erudite, insightful, stimulating, and on all the main points, convincing.

De Vries examines how households interacted with the evolving opportunities in the labor market and the changing range of goods and services. The intellectual starting point is emphatically Beckerian: households first convert part of their available time into labor income. Money is then combined with more time in the household to produce “Z-commodities” that satisfy our wants. Enjoying these Z-goods is what leisure time is for. To take an everyday example: Labor income buys edible produce; then, the meal is cooked, using non-market time; consuming it claims more of the residual time available. Gradually, households accumulate Z-capital ? the ability to produce or appreciate Z-goods. Generating this kind of capital takes time, energy, and money ? think Sebastian and Charles in “Brideshead Revisited,” teaching themselves about wine while slowly emptying the dynasty’s cellar, or the discerning palates of EUI students and faculty after a few years under the Tuscan sun. From this point of view, the ultimate budget constraint facing us all is time, not money ? it’s literally all we have to spend.

Over the last five hundred years, total hours of work ? both in the household and outside ? have shifted dramatically. To Marx, it was in the nature of capitalism itself that the lower classes ended up working more and harder. De Vries traces the rise of industriousness, defined as a combination of long hours of market work for adult males, and wide-spread participation in the labor market by women and children, to its peak in the nineteenth century. Then, for a period of less than a century, the “male breadwinner household” took over. While men worked long and hard, women became homemakers. Children started going to school.

De Vries locates his Industrious Revolution in the long eighteenth century. In the first chapter, he summarizes the theory on how work and leisure combine to satisfy desires. The second chapter fuses observations from the history of economic thought with social history, and explains how ?luxury? became acceptable ? having long been regarded as suspect in many societies, and heavily curtailed through sumptuary laws banning conspicuous consumption. Holland led the way. The burghers of the newly independent state invented a new type of luxury. While Old Luxury had a distinctly aristocratic and somewhat decadent air to it, aimed at communicating grandeur and taste, the New Luxury emphasized usefulness in the form of domestic comfort.

The next two chapters explore the supply of labor, as well as the consumer demand into which the newly-acceptable desire for practical luxury was translated. Undoubtedly, annual working hours for fully employed males had become very long by 1850 or so ? some 3,500 or so ? scarcely imaginable for workers today who often work 1,600 to 1,900 hours in most developed countries. Women and children often worked side-by-side with the men. When did hours get so long? To say anything of substance about actual hours worked before 1800 is not for the faint-hearted; existing data is staggeringly scarce [Voth 2001]. De Vries does a good job surveying the existing literature, and making a strong case for a universal rise of hours among the middling and lower sorts in Northwestern Europe at some point during the early modern period.

Why did so many Europeans start working more regularly, perhaps harder, and definitely much longer, at some point in the early modern period? De Vries essentially argues that by 1800, there were many ?new goods? to work for. Consumption baskets for the sixteenth century show that beer and bread were consumed in staggering quantities (182 liters and 182 kg per annum according to Allen 1992). While we mostly evaluate consumption in later centuries with no more than a slightly modified consumption basket, there were many other things to spend one’s money on. De Vries details the interrelated rise of fashion and of “breakable” goods; the rise and fall of hard liquor consumption, such as the gin craze; and the growing use and availability of furniture, of cutlery, ceramics, bed linens, underwear, pokers, playing cards, etc. It is the striking difference between largely stagnant day wages on the one hand, and rising consumption as reflected in probate inventories on the other, that is one of the best bits of evidence in favor of the ?Industrious Revolution.? Thus, what I have elsewhere called the “sirens of consumption” (Voth 1998) lead households to work more, and harder.

The process did eventually go into reverse. Hours per full employee have fallen precipitously. Before that happened on a large scale, women and children exited the labor force. Having developed a taste of goods over home-made services, why did the industrious households of the seventeenth and eighteenth century give way to the male-breadwinner household of the Victorian period? De Vries? answer to some extent is health. As knowledge about what made people sick spread, cleanliness became more important. Wages rose, and much of the gain was transmuted into keeping wife and children at home ? the former making the beds, cleaning the stove, mending the socks, and the latter learning in school. Feminists and ?progressive? critics have long seen the women’s exit from the labor force (at least after marriage) as a sign of male domination ? ?patriarchy? in short. De Vries begs to differ. Far from a sign of male suppression, the male breadwinner household gave ample power to women. Men handed over their pay packets, and got a warm, clean home, well-behaved children, plus some pocket money in exchange. As De Vries argues: ?The contemporary vestiges of the breadwinner-homemaker household suffer the condescension of contemporary historians and other social scientists, who often suppose themselves to be liberated from a structure of Western society as long lasting as it was suffocating. It deserves a more serious scholarly treatment. Far from eternal, it was literally a moment in Western family history. Far from suffocating, it was, in its prime, a powerful vehicle of modernization and economic advance. It was the indispensable producer of many of the final consumption commodities that we … associate with the finest achievements of modern society.?

A reviewer of Gerald D. Feldman’s monumental history of the hyperinflation [Feldman 1997] compared the prodigious production of the author with the output of the Reichsbanks’ printing presses. (I think it was meant as a compliment, despite the obvious thought that Reichsbank paper by 1923 was almost completely worthless.) In a similar vein, I thought of calling Jan de Vries’ latest work a true Stakhanovite accomplishment, but then remembered that Alexey Grigoryevich Stakhanov’s widely-praised “production miracles” in Stalinist Russia were later found to have been staged. The sheer amount of hard work that went into every aspect of these chapters is hard to convey. Surveying the rise of consumer items through the prism of probate inventories shows the author confidently mastering the abundant historical literature in four or five languages. De Vries’ reconstruction of Europeans’ increasing consumption of ?colonial luxuries? ? sugar, tea, and coffee ? alone is going to be useful for all scholars working in the area. (While this phrase is beloved by reviewers, this one put his pen where his praise was ? and immediately re-wrote a draft of his paper called “Sweet Diversity” [Hersh and Voth 2009].)

The book will be an invaluable reference for anyone working in early modern economic history. I also expect to see it used as a textbook in advanced undergraduate classes. If there is a fly in the ointment ? and every conscientious reviewer is expected to find one ? it is the almost complete disconnect with behavioral economics. The households making decisions in De Vries? world are of the sturdy Dutch burgher type depicted on the cover; work and consuming is a sober, serious business for them. They have preferences, income, and a range of choices, and then make decisions without too many further complications. De Vries, by allowing for a bit of endogenous preference formation, is departing to some extent from the more rigid basics of household decision-making models. Yet there is no struggle here of ?present selves? with ?future selves,? no hyperbolic discounting, no perennially unfulfilled desire to start saving … tomorrow (for an overview, see Mullainathan and Thaler 2001). This is not quite how some early modern observers saw (in particular) lower class consumers. Sir Frederick Eden (1797), in his The State of the Poor, was highly critical of the dietary choices made by Southern English families. He argued that choosing the quick kick of sugar and tea over more substantial fare was welfare-reducing. From his point of view, the incomes of the poor were not the issue; it was their consumption patterns. Of course, rigorous economic analysis is on shaky ground already when we allow for changing tastes (Becker and Stigler 1977); perhaps, a more detailed analysis of consumers in their full, often self-contradictory glory would have made this a truly impossible book. The profession will be grateful for the one it got.


Robert C. Allen, 2001, ?The Great Divergence in European Wages and Prices from the Middle Ages to the First World War,? Explorations in Economic History 38(4): 411-47.

Gary Becker and George Stigler, 1997, ?De Gustibus Non Est Disputandum,? American Economic Review 67(2): 76-90.

Frederick Eden, 1797, The State of the Poor, London.

Gerald D. Feldman, 1997, The Great Disorder: Politics, Economics, and Society in the German Inflation, 1914-1924, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jonathan Hersh and Hans-Joachim Voth, 2009, ?Sweet Diversity: Colonial Goods and the Rise of European Living Standards after 1492?, Available at SSRN:

Sendhil Mullainathan and Richard H. Thaler, 2001, ?Behavioral Economics,? in N. J. Smelser and P. B. Baltes, editors, _International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences, New York: Elsevier:1094?1100.

Hans-Joachim Voth, 1998, ?Work and the Sirens of Consumption in Eighteenth-Century London,? in: M. Bianchi, editor, The Active Consumer. Novelty and Surprise in Consumer Choice, London: Routledge.

Hans-Joachim Voth, 2001, Time and Work in England, 1750-1830, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hans-Joachim Voth is ICREA Research Professor of Economics at Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, a Research Affiliate at CREI (Barcelona), and a Research Fellow in the International Macro Program at the CEPR, London. His latest publications include ?Betting on Hitler: The Value of Political Connections in Nazi Germany? [with Thomas Ferguson], Quarterly Journal of Economics (2008); ?Interest Rate Restrictions in a Natural Experiment: Loan Allocation and the Change in the Usury Laws in 1714? [with Peter Temin], Economic Journal (2007); and ?Why England? Demographic Factors, Structural Change and Physical Capital Accumulation during the Industrial Revolution? [with Nico Voigtlaender], Journal of Economic Growth (2006).

Subject(s):Markets and Institutions
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

Gender, Work and Wages in Industrial Revolution Britain

Author(s):Burnette, Joyce
Reviewer(s):Hatton, Timothy J.

Published by EH.NET (December 2008)

Joyce Burnette, Gender, Work and Wages in Industrial Revolution Britain. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008. xii + 377 pp. $99 (hardcover), ISBN: 978-0-521-88063-3.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Timothy J. Hatton, Department of Economics, Australian National University.

Joyce Burnette?s book provides a highly revisionist view of the position of women in the labor market during the century from 1750 to 1850. To say that this is contested terrain would be a gross understatement and Burnette?s reinterpretation directly confronts, and seeks to overturn, much of what historians have argued. In particular she challenges those who believe that occupational segregation and gender wage gaps must be interpreted as social phenomena that are rooted in custom and gender ideology. She argues instead that much of what is observed can be interpreted as the work of markets. An overarching theme of the book is that the custom, culture and ideology of gender divisions were largely shaped by labor market imperatives, and not the other way around.

Burnette?s analysis is rooted firmly in the neoclassical theory of competitive labor markets. She asserts that gender differences in labor market outcomes can be explained by two key biological differences between men and women: men?s superior physical strength and women?s unique ability to bear children. ?Can be explained? is the operative phrase as the alternative interpretations are often observationally equivalent. Nevertheless Burnette strives to discriminate between neoclassical interpretations of the labor market and less sharply specified alternatives. While the objective is to push this argument as far as possible, the author recognizes that there are limits. In significant sectors of the labor market, institutional forces were important; but according to Burnette, labor market segmentation and its concomitant wage effects were driven by the self interest of those with market power and not specifically by gender ideology.

Chapters 1 and 2 lay out the evidence on women?s occupational distribution and the gender wage gap. Data from the census, employment records and business directories are used to highlight three key features. The first is the well known fact that women?s employment was highly concentrated, generally in low wage occupations. The second is that, despite this concentration, women were represented in small numbers in almost all occupations. And the third is that patterns of employment were not immutable; they changed considerably in the course of the industrial revolution. On wages, Burnette argues that the literature has often underestimated women?s wages relative to men?s on a like-for-like basis. This is because women often worked shorter hours, possessed lower skill levels and ? especially for jobs that required physical strength ? women?s productivity was lower than men?s. Focusing on piece rates she shows that the ?true? ratio of women?s wages to men?s is in the range three fifths to three quarters rather than between a third and a half. Along the way she inveighs against those who focus on fairness or on relative effort, insisting that wages depend on what workers produce and not on what they deserve.

Surely the occupational segregation that is so commonly observed is prima facie evidence that women were kept out of the more remunerative occupations by custom, convention and discrimination, especially given the evidence that women could do many of the jobs that were largely the preserve of men. Not so, argues Burnette. In unskilled occupations the sorting of employment by gender can be largely explained by comparative advantage ? that is by the underlying differences in the endowments of women and men. In the occupations that required strength men had a comparative advantage; by contrast women had comparative advantage in sectors such as cottage industry where they could combine work with child care. Perhaps the most compelling illustration, which recurs throughout the book, is in cotton textiles. Before the industrial revolution women spun and men weaved; the spinning mule required strength and so spinning became a male domain. Yet while many of Burnette?s illustrations are convincing, some occupations simply don?t fit. For example laundry work was notoriously heavy work and yet it was almost exclusively done by women, while other occupations like tailoring and hairdressing, which were less physically demanding, remained the province of men.

Drawing on her earlier research, Burnette provides econometric evidence to show that men and women were substitutes across a range of occupations. Using Arthur Young?s data for individual farms she finds that where men?s wages were higher (reflecting their scarcity) women?s employment was higher too. The implication is that women were not just potential substitutes ? they were actually substituted for men. An alternative test of substitution versus segmentation is that, looking across localities, men?s and women?s wages were positively correlated. The interpretation here is that male labor scarcity drove up women?s wages if the two were substitutes. But this test is not clear cut ? a positive correlation between wages by gender (even across seasons in the same location) could simply reflect the impact of common demand shocks on otherwise segmented labor markets.

Many readers would doubt that gender pay gaps and occupational segregation could be explained by biological endowments beyond obvious examples where physical strength was at a premium. Chapter 5 argues that while such effects were pervasive in the unskilled occupations where there was little to impede competition, the same cannot be said of skilled occupations. Burnette claims that access to skilled occupations was restricted by formal or informal trade unionism (rather than by employers), even though such associations were illegal under the Combination Acts until 1824. Where unionism was strong (more so among English compositors, mule spinners and miners than among their Scottish counterparts) and male workers had some source of economic leverage, women were successfully excluded.

Chapter 6 goes on to explore a mixed bag of non-manual occupations. As is well known, in fields such as law, medicine and in the church, growing professionalization increased the power to exclude. By contrast, in areas such as teaching where there was essentially free entry, women were well represented. But they were underrepresented in business and in self-employment generally. Restricted access to capital could be the culprit but this gets limited support. Women?s lack of legal independence from their husbands seems more likely, but in Burnette?s view, women?s enterprise was constrained because competitive pressures did not permeate the family. Here we come close to reasserting the importance of gender ideology and abandoning neoclassical arguments (such as those of Gary Becker).

A final chapter examines the trend in women?s participation, which appears to have been declining in the middle decades of the nineteenth century. The essential argument is that growing occupational segregation tended to reduce overall demand for women?s labor while growing male incomes raised women?s reservation wages through household income effects. These forces combined to reduce women?s supply of market work. But it is unclear whether these forces alone are sufficient, and Burnette concedes that trends in gender ideology might have been important even though it is not possible to distinguish between cause and effect. Although the great diversity of participation rates across regions and localities offers potential tests of such hypotheses (especially as labor market conditions are more localized than ideology) this dimension is rather neglected. In general, a fuller account of the evolution of women?s work from a regional perspective would have strengthened some of the analysis in the later chapters.

Joyce Burnette?s book provides an account of women?s work during the industrial revolution that is thoroughly researched and cogently argued. What makes it so powerful is the uncompromising application of neoclassical economics, which provides the book with the coherence and internal consistency that other approaches often lack. That flavor will not please everyone. The book lays down a clear challenge to much of the existing literature and it provides an important focal point for further debate. I am sure that it will become the totemic reference for this kind of thinking about the evolution of women?s work. For those with even a passing interest in gender history or in the industrial revolution, I thoroughly recommend it.

Timothy J. Hatton is Professor of Economics at the Australian National University and the University of Essex and is a Research Fellow of the CEPR (London) and the IZA (Bonn). His main interests are labor market history and international migration and his recent work includes Global Migration and the World Economy (with Jeffrey G. Williamson), MIT Press, 2005.

Subject(s):Labor and Employment History
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Time Period(s):19th Century

City of Clerks: Office and Sales Workers in Philadelphia, 1870-1920

Author(s):Bjelopera, Jerome P.
Reviewer(s):Mandell, Nikki

Published by EH.NET (December 2005)

Jerome P. Bjelopera, City of Clerks: Office and Sales Workers in Philadelphia, 1870-1920. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2005. ix + 208 pp. $22 (paperback), ISBN: 0-252-07227-8.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Nikki Mandell, Department of History, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

City of Clerks examines a class of workers that is inherently difficult to study, the exploding office and sales workforce of the second industrial revolution. Jerome Bjelopera clearly understands this. His opening chapter grapples with what he calls the “clerical revolution.” This revolution encompassed the entry of women into the clerical workforce, the incomplete feminization of clerical occupations, proletarianization of clerical work in the form of increased routinization and mechanization, and diminishing opportunities for upward mobility. None of this is entirely new terrain for historians. Instead, City of Clerks seeks to move the historical conversation beyond the workplace to a consideration of clerical workers “anchor[ed] … firmly within the context of the industrial metropolis” (p. 3). Bjelopera reminds readers that the long-standing fascination with the manufacturing sector misrepresents the industrializing era: the white collar workforce grew more rapidly during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries than did the blue collar workforce. Thus, “understanding the work lives, residential patterns, and leisure experiences of the clerical workers between 1870 and 1920 helps us to more clearly conceptualize the maturation of the industrial order and provides insight into the initial stage of post-industrial society” (p. 7).

After the opening chapter’s national overview, City of Clerks turns to a case study of the clerical sector in Philadelphia. The author relies almost exclusively on the records of two firms, the Pierce Business School, which claimed to be the nation’s largest business school in the early decades of the twentieth century, and Strawbridge and Clothiers, one of Philadelphia’s leading department stores. Chapter 2 explores the process of finding a white collar job, opportunities for upward mobility and gendered commonalities among clerical work across the office and sales sectors. Chapter 3 pursues this theme more intently, finding that the curriculum at Pierce School “helped forge a new white-collar identity” that encompassed a gendered construction of the clerical world (p. 77).

The second half of the book turns to the clerical world outside the workplace. Chapter 4 chronicles a shift in clerical leisure activities from pre-1890s single-sex fraternal and benefit associations to post-1890s mixed-sex sports and night life, including baseball, bicycling, vaudeville, amusement parks and travel vacations. This mixed-sex leisure drew clerks into a world of middle class consumption. Chapter 5 argues that these leisure activities contributed to a gendered and racially prescribed clerical identity. In an interesting analysis of clerks’ proclivity for minstrelsy, Bjelopera concludes that clerks transferred occupational values (of loyalty, industriousness, thrift, temperance) into a personal ethic that described who they were as white middle class men and women. The final chapter follows the rise of a clerical identity into clerks’ homes and neighborhoods. Using city directories to plot residential patterns, Bjelopera finds that clerks joined an outward migration to increasingly homogeneous furnished-room districts. By 1920 experiences outside the workplace were as important in shaping clerical identity as were experiences in the office and on the sales floor.

This is a commendable effort that shines a spotlight on a feature of industrial modernization that has been neglected for too long. Readers unfamiliar with the growing literature on white collar workers will find a broadly inclusive and engaging portrait of the clerical world. Trade and services, not manufacturing, replaced agriculture as the dominant economic activity in the modern economy. This portrait of clerking life in Philadelphia is rich in detail. Accounts of typewriters’ poems, bicycle club outings and minstrel shows are particularly noteworthy, as is the author’s attention to race as an element of a white collar ethic. City of Clerks reminds us of the complex white collar world and that clerks in this new middle class were among the first to incorporate consumption into their occupational identity.

Despite this potential, City of Clerks does not live up to its promise. Although the book opens with accounts of the many fracture lines within the clerking occupations and describes clerking as an occupation in transition, succeeding chapters treat the clerical workforce as an unchanging and largely homogeneous group. The reader learns virtually nothing about differences between office and sales clerks, between in-store and traveling salesmen, between office clerks working in small offices and large pools. After noting that the “most significant growth” in white-collar occupations during the first decade of the twentieth century occurred in the professions, and that this was due to the “swelling of managerial jobs,” the book fails to address the relationship between managers and workers in the white collar world (p. 27).

This inattention to managerial-clerical relations is particularly troubling since the book relies almost exclusively on sources created by or presumably with the approval of management. City of Clerks finds that clerks “created a rich group life away from the workplace,” without questioning who shaped that group life. Stating that “[b]oth salespeople and managers were active in the same clubs formed by the Strawbridge and Clothier workforce” misses an essential point (p. 113). The evidence suggests that these club activities occurred within company (or school) welfare work programs. Recent studies demonstrate that management purposefully shaped welfare work to promote the gendered middle class work ethic that City of Clerks finds expressed in clerks’ “rich group life.” Did clerks actually imbibe this ethic? What proportion actually participated in these welfare work activities?

This is not the only area that begs for deeper inquiry and greater skepticism about the sources. The author asserts that “[i]nstead of … a clear division between male management and female workforce [there was] some degree of role blurring and gender intermingling in the office and on selling floors.” Yet, beyond men’s numerical majority, the evidence presented does more to prove gender segmentation than to support the contention that there was “role blurring and gender intermingling.” In fact, one of the strengths of City of Clerks lies in its attention to the ways in which gender segmentation shaped all facets of the clerical world.

Finally, this reader wishes that City of Clerks had explored its central thesis more thoroughly. Returning to the opening assertion that understanding the clerical world is central to understanding the “maturation of the industrial order,” this book ends with the curious statement that clerks “approximated the lives of twenty-first century Americans more closely than did their industrial-era working-class counterparts: at work they managed information; at home they were consumers. In these regards, they were postmodern in the modern age” (p. 161). This places City of Clerks among a new literature exploring the ways that consumer culture permeated all aspects of public and private life in the twentieth century. Bjelopera challenges his readers to revision the typical worker of the industrial era as an information handler with an identity grounded in consumption, not a production worker with an identity grounded in class or ethnicity. If clerking was an integral part of the emerging modern industrial order as the author asserts, then clerks were, by definition, modern not postmodern.

Nikki Mandell is the author of The Corporation as Family: The Gendering of Corporate Welfare, 1890-1930 (University of North Carolina Press, 2002). She is currently engaged in research for a case study of business women in Milwaukee, 1880-1930.

Subject(s):Social and Cultural History, including Race, Ethnicity and Gender
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):20th Century: Pre WWII

Maize and Grace: Africa’s Encounter with a New World Crop, 1500-2000

Author(s):McCann, James C.
Reviewer(s):Bogue, Allan G.

Published by EH.NET (September 2005)

James C. McCann, Maize and Grace: Africa’s Encounter with a New World Crop, 1500-2000. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005. xiii + 289 pp. $27.95 (cloth), ISBN: 0-674-01718-8.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Allan G. Bogue, Department of History, University of Wisconsin.

A historian and African Studies specialist, James C. McCann has studied in Africa, conducted research there for international philanthropic agencies and written histories of Ethiopia and the African environment. In this book he describes “maize’s historical encounter with the landscapes of Africa” from introduction to its current status as Africa’s dominant food crop. Of concern also is the “implicit question” of whether the New World’s gift of this crop has bestowed a blessing (grace) upon Africa.

More important as a food source in Africa than in comparable entities maize is expected to double production by 2020. It is the world and Africa’s most adapted food crop, thriving in many environmental conditions and farming systems. Some African nations devote more than seventy percent of their cereal acreage to maize. Old African farmers were artisans adapting crop mixes to local ecology, soils, elevation, and moisture. Initially corn was a garden plant valued for early maturity and easy food preparation. In contrast, writes McCann, North America and Europe developed an industrial model pointing to monocropping and use of chemicals to overcome differences in soil capability. As a cereal in Africa, maize displaced wheat and sorghums, less often rice. A great variety of colors, field characteristics, and disease resistance developed in a process of folk selection of seed. Women gardened it; men tended it in field. It had political implications because it could feed armies or support social objectives. Early Africanization produced heterogeneity — now replaced by standardization of cultivation methods, reflecting, says McCann, the political ecology changing from local initiative, through colonialism to globalism. Some unique features remain including the fact that in Africa maize is primarily used as human food. Industrial phase maize is preferred in today’s global system, explains McCann, because it can be controlled by the state and corporate agriculture, features economies of scale, and is comparable across geography and cultures.

In his first chapter McCann introduces the maize plant, explains its American origins, its need for human care in propagation, its five major families — sweet, pop, floury, flint, and dent — and their many colors and characteristics. Africa’s maize crop increased area most strikingly in the twentieth century, particularly since 1950. In some African states it provides more than fifty percent of the food calories. “For better or worse,” writes McCann, “modern genetic alchemy has transformed maize from an obligingly adaptive vegetable crop to a hegemonic leviathan that dominates regional diets and international grain markets” (p. 21).

Documentary evidence of maize’s arrival in Africa as a “stranger” cultivar is fragmentary. Those types introduced reflected the New World contacts of the European nations whose traders worked the African coastlines. A trail of flint types also led from Seville to Venice and thence to Egypt and the Nile valley. The types and varieties later present and regional names for maize left tracks of the introduction process. The speed of acceptance varied; in some of West Africa maize became a basic part of the intercropping, rotation, and burning of pioneer forest agriculture and a slave trade staple. Here floury maize supplanted flints. But in some areas maize long remained a vegetable. With the adoption of African experiment station initials and numbers in naming new varieties it was “no longer the stranger” (p. 38}.

Having covered such introductory matters, McCann describes major features of the crop’s adoption and development in key areas of Africa beginning with the Asante in Ghana where maize fueled that tribe’s “hegemonic growth” (p. 43). Here maize produced two crops a year, fitting into the forest fallow system along with cassava. The Asante’s maize-fed army expanded tribal reach into neighboring savannahs, adapting floury maize to the drier climate. Currently quality protein maize from the Ghana Crop Research Institute is allowing a shift toward monocropping. Despite some differences with Ghana, Nigerian farmers also found that maize produced the greatest returns. But McCann cautions that diversion from “a biodiverse forest ecology to virtual monocropping may be an increasingly fragile” trend (p. 57).

Next McCann provides a discussion of maize in two peasant empires, that occupying the northeastern Ethiopian highlands and the Venetian Republic, the latter enhancing the book’s comparative dimensions. Dominant in the Mediterranean trades, the Venetian elites suffered with the opening of transatlantic connections and diverted investments into the agricultural hinterland. Here, the landlords wished their tenants to produce wheat. But due to peasant resistance and initiative, maize became the primary crop, supporting grain and livestock production and providing the peasant’s major food, a dependence that later produced the scourge of pellagra. In Ethiopia maize remained a garden plant for centuries. Despite some overlord presence, Ethiopian farmers controlled the crop selection on their plots, developing a conservative agrarian culture, its members satisfied with their mix of cereals. Maize emerged as a field crop in the twentieth century along the southern edge of the highlands where commercial production began in the 1930s and a coffee-maize economy developed after World War II. Government controls on coffee during the socialist era, 1974-1991, persuaded many to expand their maize crop, as did demographic crisis and other government policies. By 1991 half of Ethiopia’s cereal production was maize. Italy by the 1990s was the world’s thirteenth leading maize producer, its dent hybrids supporting dairy and meat agroindustries. But in Ethiopia the late turn to maize accompanied “a decline into precarious subsistence” and efforts on the part of the state and international agencies to “break traditional cropping patterns.” If a blessing in Italy, maize was not so in Ethiopia (p. 93).

Southern Africa developed two patterns of maize culture — one of small farms, often operated by women, following a subsistence strategy but also selling surplus grain in competition with large commercial farms in a national market supervised by marketing boards. Maize had arrived in southern Africa by the mid 1600s, Brazilian flints, floury types and North American dents following in sequence by 1900. Dutch settlers brought mechanized agriculture which also revolutionized hinterland native agriculture, maize replacing sorghums. Diamonds, gold, and railroads industrialized the economy and created a national grain market. After World War I, white farmers used open pollinated white dents as a cash crop that provided the “agrarian economic base of the rapid expansion of settlers’ rule in southern Africa.” By 1930 maize had superseded wheat as a cereal in northern South Africa and the families of industrial workers left behind “on impoverished farms in the black homelands” of an apartheid society lived on the local crop (p. 110). Meanwhile white settler farms grew, assisted by price controls, government credit, extension, and marketing activities that encouraged monocropping. So marked was the influence of southern Africa in maize research and administration that white dent became dominant in Africa.

McCann’s last regional story describes the successes of hybrid varieties in Rhodesia and its successor states, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Malawi. Learning of American hybrid corn research in the 1930s, plant breeders at the Salisbury Agricultural Research Station in southern Rhodesia began to develop inbred dent lines. Working solely to sustain European-style agriculture they produced a promising parent line in the 1940s, suited to the soils of the white commercial farmers, and continued work when the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland emerged. They released the phenomenally successful hybrid, SR52 in 1960. Only after creation of the Rhodesian heir states, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Malawi did black farmers benefit from improvements in hybrid maize, although the resulting monoculture increased vulnerability to drought. Maize had somewhat different histories in the three states but all (as also Kenya) are now marked by hybrid monocropping, production for a national market, and the major presence of agricultural science.

Interspersed amid the historical accounts of maize in various settings, McCann discusses two crises in African cereal culture. In Sierra Leone in 1949 a devastating attack of American Rust on the maize crop occurred, spreading rapidly over the next several years along the West African Coast and finally reaching Southern Rhodesia, Kenya, and Tanganyika. The villain was P. polysora an American resident but left behind in the Atlantic crossing. Local plant scientists and “multilateral international agencies” rushed development of rust resistant maize and by 1953 promising strains were ready when the infection disappeared. P. polysora is now an African resident. The reaction to the outbreak, writes McCann, was that of a “mature imperial world” transitioning to one dominated by “the modern development industry and invasive multilateral organizations” (p. 121). He also describes the severe malaria epidemic that swept Ethiopia’s northwest high lands in 1998. Here the government with assistance from a Japanese philanthropic program, Sasakawa Global 2000, and the Carter Center had continued its “infatuation with improved types of maize” by encouraging the use of new hybrids, increasing production substantially (p. 186). BH 660, the major variety, tasseled late. McCann shared in research that found expansion of maize areas, using this variety, when linked with late rains, fortified the mosquito breeding catch basins with corn pollen. This supported the development of a large proportion of mosquito larvae thus reinforcing the vector of infection.

Africa’s agricultural production is increasing at two percent per year while population grows at a three percent rate. This book is an invaluable source of information on a basic element in the situation, essential reading for anyone interested in Africa’s history or current problems. In the conclusion McCann suggests that the current emphasis on maize in Africa may have a Jurassic Park effect given the narrowing of genetic flexibility entailed in monocropping hybrid maize, the possibility of plant disease outbreaks, a growing danger from mycotoxins, drought and climate change, human epidemics enhanced by population mobility, and the volatility of international markets. “It is a gloomy prospect,” he writes, “a cautionary alarm is justified” (p. 210). Threaded through the narrative is a policy critique. African plant breeders long served the needs of only white commercial farmers and by ignoring the old varicolored maizes of the black farmers they restricted future options. McCann’s ideal is biodiversity and local initiative. International philanthropic organizations are “invasive” servants of globalism. In beginning his book McCann in effect promises a benefit/cost analysis of maize’s contribution to African history and this he delivers if somewhat impressionistically. We should be grateful. But there is still an opportunity for economic historians to provide a more rigorous analysis. At a less notable level this reviewer was impressed, as will be others, by the author’s success in moving a pun-laden title past the Harvard University Press editors.

Allan G. Bogue is Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. His publications include articles and books in American agricultural history, the most recent being The Farm on the North Talbot Road (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2001).

Subject(s):Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Extractive Industries
Geographic Area(s):Africa
Time Period(s):20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

Yankee Don’t Go Home! Mexican Nationalism, American Business Culture, and the Shaping of Modern Mexico, 1920-1950

Author(s):Moreno, Julio
Reviewer(s):Schell Jr., William

Published by EH.NET (September 2004)

Julio Moreno, Yankee Don’t Go Home! Mexican Nationalism, American Business Culture, and the Shaping of Modern Mexico, 1920-1950. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2003. xi + 319 pp. $59.95 (cloth), ISBN: 0-8078-2802-5; $21.95 (paperback), ISBN: 0-8078-5478-6.

Reviewed for EH.NET by William Schell, Jr., Department of History, Murray State University.

University of San Francisco professor Julio Moreno opens his book Yankee Don’t Go Home with a description of Sears Roebuck’s grand opening in Mexico City and a question: “Why was Sears so successful at entering the Mexican market a few years after popular nationalism drove American companies out of Mexico” (p. 1)? From this question flows a series of inquiries. How did Mexican and American domestic and geopolitical interests come to coincide? Why did Mexico’s promoters of import substitution industrialization (ISI) encourage American reentry into its economy? What role did Mexican advertising and media professionals play in this convergence?

By the late-1920s Moreno explains, pragmatic Mexican politicos, scrambling to institutionalize the revolution and their legitimacy, decided to pursue the “reconstruction of modern Mexico … under the banner of industrial capitalism” (p. 229). The most efficient means to that end and to turn Mexican workers into consumers would be to infuse Mexican economic culture with yanqui business methods. Obviously that would necessitate some degree of American economic involvement, a significant problem given Mexican national consciousness was shaped by a revolution laden with anti-Americanism.

State-building politicos faced a conundrum — how to put “a nationalist and revolutionary spin” on their plan to substitute “consumer democracy” for political democracy (pp. 151 and 44). Fortunately Mexico’s advertising agents then organizing as a profession proved willing collaborators. Versed in advertising techniques pioneered by American firms like J. Walter Thompson, these self-styled “prophets of capitalism” sold their fellow citizens a Mexican version of the American dream with consumer goods as revolutionary rewards. In doing so, they refashioned Mexican national identity “syncretizing … American and Mexican values … [to] forg[e] … a middle ground that allowed the coexistence of apparently conflicting values” (pp. 6 and 82-112).

American-style modernization evoked opposition by Catholic conservatives, just as it had during the Porfiriato. While desiring “a comfortable standard of living” for Mexicans, conservatives felt unbridled materialism and consumerism would erode traditional family and spiritual values. Nonetheless Acc?on Cat?lica readily employed mass media and techniques of modern advertising to warn of the dangers of “obsession with material wealth” — particularly on women (p. 226). They decried sexually suggestive advertising for cosmetics, hosiery, and (especially) feminine hygiene products (figs. 3.4, 3.5 and 7.3) fearing their daughters and wives would become “preoccupied with [their] physical appearance[s]” and “spend most of [their] time at beauty salons and movie theaters” (p. 221). Thus the Church resisted the consumerism preached by Thompson’s “commercial missionaries” and their Mexican acolytes (p. 155).

Official Washington only slowly recognized that Mexico’s pragmatic revolutionaries had adopted “consumption and material prosperity as synonyms for democracy and national identity” and was slower still to take advantage of the opportunity offered (p. 4). Not until the eve of World War II did it established the Office of Inter-American Affairs under Nelson Rockefeller to merge commercial speech and political propaganda. Although U.S. trade with Mexico was relatively insignificant, Rockefeller encouraged American businesses to take the long view and continue advertising in Mexico. To promote American products was to promote American cultural values and thus undercut German fascism and, during the Cold War, Communism. Over time yanqui businessmen came to see this iteration of Dollar Diplomacy carried on by Sears and other “commercial diplomats” as more “progressive” and effective in promoting U.S. interests than State Department diplomacy (pp. 172, 230-231).

In the final analysis, Mexican state builders and official Washington employed the same means to achieve different ends. Mexican state builders opened markets to American firms while simultaneously promoting ISI. American firms seeking Mexican markets had to appeal to national traditions and culture while simultaneously finding ways to accommodate or circumvent government ISI programs. Thus Palmolive adorned its soap with the image of Nuestra Se?ora de Guadalupe (fig. 4.8) while the Westinghouse subsidiary Industria Electrica de M?xico ran ads supporting nationalist “buy at home” campaigns (fig. 4.11). American operations south of the border were Mexicanized which facilitated the transmission of things Mexican to the other side while, pari passu, Mexican consumer culture and modernity took on a yanqui color.

Moreno’s inquiry into the interplay of cultures and economics in post-revolutionary Mexico is a worthy enterprise that taps fresh and rich archival sources. Moreno gets the big picture right. Architects of the institutional revolutionary state pursued a two-track policy — supporting Washington’s geopolitical positions while offering American businesses limited entry into the Mexican economy to supply consumer goods, an essential precondition to recast Mexican workers as consumers. Once a consumer mentality was established, demand for goods and services would create the conditions for successful ISI. Moreno also deserves praise for emphasizing Mexico’s primacy in directing and shaping its relationship with the U.S. by anticipating Washington’s responses to global events.

Although I think the evidence insufficient to support his assertion that “government leaders … saw advertising as the driving force of Mexico’s industrial and commercial growth” (p. 25), I tend to agree that “advertising images bridged conflicting values in Mexican society (by) creat(ing) a setting in which the national and the global coexisted” (p. 151). Still Moreno’s development of his theme and use of evidence seems haphazard. For instance, he reproduces ads for Colgate and Hormel from 1943 (figs. 2.3 and 2.4) ostensibly to show American use of advertising to carry anti-Axis propaganda and to “‘militarize’ the Mexican population” (p. 77). While this militarization is central in Hormel’s ad, Pueblo Sano ?Patria Fuerte!, juxtaposing exercising children with an infantryman under arms, it is illustrated less well, if at all, by Colgate’s use of the inconspicuous win-the-war unity logo routinely placed in wartime ads.

The ads do, however, raise questions relating to Moreno’s major themes of cultural syncretism and the emergence of a “middle-ground” between Mexican and American values. Colgate’s ad uses Mexican models and Moreno later examines Colgate’s cultural sensitivity in its advertising at length but without reference to this ad (pp.137-146). Meanwhile the visual evidence of Hormel’s shows little syncretism. Its cartoon pitchmen look as if they sprang from the Dick-and-Jane reader, leaving me (if not Moreno) to wonder just whose nation might be strengthened by eating Spam.

Moreno recognizes that, in their “reconstruction of modern Mexico (revolutionaries) … recycled processes that were fundamental to nation building during the (Porfiriato)” (p. 113). Yet his work seems oddly disconnected from Porfirian studies. He caricatures the Porfiriato, fashioning strawmen to heighten contrasts between the ancien r?gime and its revolutionary successor as when he notes: “Unlike the D?az administration, government representatives after 1917 believed that the state should sponsor or direct the economy and … actively support Mexico’s industrial and commercial growth.” This differs not at all from the protectionist, interventionist Porfirian state described by Steven Haber, Edward Beatty, Sandra Kuntz Ficker and others.

More disconcerting given his focus on media management to achieve geopolitical and domestic goals, Moreno seems unaware of the D?az regime’s innovative international press operation. Porfirian spin-doctors used advertising and propaganda techniques every bit as sophisticated as those Moreno describes for the post-revolutionary period. The regime’s Bureau of Information, headed by Paul Hudson, a powerful and influential publisher, sold Mexico and D?az to the world while burying all negative reports. His Mexican Herald introduced Mexicans to consumer culture, generating the same sort of syncretism, while his Modern Mexico shamelessly touted wildly over-valued tropical lands to na?ve North American investors. In 1910, he directed an amazingly successful propaganda campaign pumping up Mexico’s Centennial while refuting charges of barbarism and rumors of political unrest then circulating. As a result American investment actually increased as Francisco Madero launched his revolution.

Linda Hall has judged Moreno’s book a “highly readable narrative (that) … makes a significant contribution to the field” (cover notes). I found it plodding, uninteresting, and, with the substitution of repetition for analysis, rather less informative than might be expected. Ultimately, when reviewers disagree so sharply, all those interested in the important questions of culture and economy Moreno presents should read and decide for themselves.

William Schell, Jr. is a professor of history at Murray State University in Western Kentucky. He authored Integral Outsiders: The American Colony of Mexico City, 1876-1911 (2001) and “Silver Symbiosis: ReOrienting Mexican Economic History,” Hispanic American Historic Review 81 (2001). His commentary “Opposing Military Tribunals,” aired on NPR’s Morning Edition (Dec. 2001).


Subject(s):International and Domestic Trade and Relations
Geographic Area(s):Latin America, incl. Mexico and the Caribbean
Time Period(s):20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

The Status of Women in Classical Economic Thought

Author(s):Diman, Robert
Nyland, Chris
Reviewer(s):Rima, Ingrid H.

Published by EH.NET (August 2004)


Robert Dimand and Chris Nyland, editors, The Status of Women in Classical Economic Thought. Cheltenham UK: Edward Elgar, 2003. ix + 315 pp. $95 (hardcover), ISBN: 1-8440644-78-8.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Ingrid H. Rima, Department of Economics, Temple University.

Robert Dimand and Chris Nyland have brought together fifteen essays, six of which have been previously published in leading journals, to examine little known insights that eighteenth and nineteenth century classical economists had about the relatively inferior status of women in their societies. Despite their disparate national backgrounds and areas of contemporary specialization, the contributors’ essays “hang together” surprisingly well. This is surely attributable to the skill of the editors, both in inviting contributions and guiding their cohesiveness. The leitmotif that links them is their recognition that classical economists were neither without interest or voice relating to the status of women. The historical origins of modern day gender conservatism is quite clearly attributable to classical thinkers who, like Jean-Baptiste Say and William Nassau Senior, were politically rather than philosophically oriented. Given the political unrest implicit in the class inequalities of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the concern of Say and Senior was directed chiefly to maintaining civil stability and order in spite of the harsh working conditions of unmarried single mothers and widows. Their argument, which still has present-day adherents, was that the lower wages of women (and their associated poverty) is in large part a reflection of the fact that a man’s wage is necessarily a requisite for a family, rather than a single person. Counterarguments were being expressed in the writings of reformers like Mary Wollstonecraft in her A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792), and Priscilla Wakefield’s “Reflections on the Present Condition of the Female Sex” (1798), which extended the relevance of Smith’s productive labor to women. Editor Dimand provides further details about her work in his chapter 10. Along with the insights provided by Evelyn Forget about the alternative work opportunities provided for unmarried women in quasi-convent communities established by the state, and favored by J. B. Say, we learn that the harsh era of post-Napoleonic France was not without influential socially concerned classical thinkers.

While the great English jurist Jeremy Bentham shared the concerns of most conservative English thinkers who feared the repetition in England of the revolutionary attitudes that prevailed in France, he also recognized that English law excluded women from their rightful freedoms and opportunities. Even though Bentham’s Utilitarianism provided a philosophical foundation for greater gender equality as a modus operandi for realizing greater social “happiness,” it was the fear that these revolutionary attitudes were capable of crossing the English Channel that prevailed. The essays in this volume thus establish that the conventional wisdom that classical thinkers, with few exceptions, which included John Stuart Mill and his wife, Harriet, focused almost exclusively on the economic role of men, and were unconcerned with women, is patently untrue. Each of the contributors, Annie L. Cot, Evelyn Forget, Peter Groenewegen, Thomas Heenan, and David Levy, in addition to the two editors, provide analyses that enlighten us about the nature of classicists’ interest in the sources of gender inequalities, and the possibilities for readdressing them.

The secondary theme of the collection — namely that the cultural and economic transformation of the status of women lends itself to explanation in terms of Adam Smith’s “stages of social history” view of economic progress — is presented with less assurance than the first. The origin of Smith’s stages of social history perspective is attributed by editor Nyland to one John Millar, a fellow Scotsman and faculty member at Glasgow. Smith is said to have developed the stages of history perspective in his Lectures on Jurisprudence (1766). Nyland explores the theme in two chapters: Chapter 5, “Adam Smith’s Stage Theory and the Status of Women,” and Chapter 6, “Women’s Progress and the End of History.” The essential conclusion of Chapter 5 is that with the achievement of the commercial stage “productivity and wealth accumulation reaches a stage that makes possible very important changes in the state of society and particularly in relation to women” (p. 117). Yet, Millar is reported to have opined that “an end point to the rise of women had (by then) been reached” (p. 120). Thus, in chapter 6 “Women’s Progress and the End of History,” the focus shifts to Malthus’s views on the importance to society of preserving the traditional form of marriage, leading Nyland to an ambivalent assessment of the likely ongoing progress of women and the inference that the social evolution of women may well require a society that has developed beyond capitalism. Nyland further suggests Smith’s “stages of economic development” perspective for explaining the possibilities for changing the status of women has been obscured partly because his Lectures languished unpublished for more than a century, so that “he never published the [stages of history] argument” (p. 6). This is not entirely accurate; the sequel to the Lectures (1766) was his magnum opus, The Wealth of Nations (WN) (1776), which carries forward the theme of stages of social history in its Book III “of the Different Progress of Opulence in Different Nations.” This is the briefest and least studied part of the five books comprising The Wealth of Nations, and has yet to receive the critical attention it deserves. With this book, Smith is returning to the “stages of social history” theme introduced earlier in his Lectures on Jurisprudence (1766) to speculate about the origin of economic surplus and its role in the relationship between “the higher and lower orders” of the economic hierarchy.

Joseph Schumpeter once observed that the materials of Book III of WN would have made an excellent starting point for an historical sociology of economic life (Schumpeter 1954, p.187.) Smith’s focus in the Lectures is on the societal aspects of economic behavior, and on the institutions within which the economic process is carried out during the stages of economic development that preceded the nascent industrial economy of the England of his own day. This differs from the perspective of the four other books, in which Smith’s focus is on the relationship between economic rather than social classes.

Class conflict (of which gender conflict is surely an integral part) is the likely outcome when the stationary state “in which that full complement of riches which the nature and its institutions permits it to acquire” (Smith 1776, I, viii, p. 82) — in which there are no ongoing additions to the economic surplus — has been attained. When the growth process becomes attenuated at some future time that is still too distant to contemplate, with the emergence of a stationary state (which Smith describes China as having already achieved), the inference can be made that gender conflict is as likely to become aggravated as class conflict. The prospect for both gender and class conflict in a “slow growth” or “no growth” economy seems inevitable as those who are poor come to recognize they are involved in a zero-sum game.

A difficulty that is encountered in understanding Book III is that it is often necessary to interpolate passages from the Lectures and from other Books of WN to develop Smith’s underlying historical perspective and their relationship to class enmity. Thus it seems that the extension of Smith’s stages of social history perspective to incorporate gender conflict (as well as class conflict) requires a linking of the argument to the growth of society’s social surplus, which is ongoing until the advent of the stationary state. The conflict to which the classical economists addressed themselves is among social classes — workers (women as well as men), capitalists and landlords. Book III extends the stages of history analysis from the Lectures to anticipate that class conflict is the likely outcome when the stationary state is reached. It is surprising to encounter the renaming of the classical stationary state, which is so central to classical thinking, especially after Smith, as “the end of history stage.”

Be that as it may, this is a small distraction that does not take away from the recognition this volume provides about the contributions of classical thinkers to the origins of gender conflict.


Ingrid Rima (1998) “Class Conflict and Adam Smith’s Stages of Social History”, Journal of the History of Economic Thought, 20 (1).

Joseph Schumpeter (1954), History of Economic Analysis, Oxford University Press, New York.

Adam Smith (1937 [1776]) The Wealth of Nations, Modern Library, New York.

Ingrid Rima’s publications include Development of Economic Analysis, Routledge (sixth edition), 2000.


Subject(s):History of Economic Thought; Methodology
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Time Period(s):19th Century

American Exceptionalism, American Anxiety: Wages, Competition, and Degraded Labor in the Antebellum United States

Author(s):Glickstein, Jonathan A.
Reviewer(s):Margo, Robert A.

Published by EH.NET (December 2002)


Jonathan A. Glickstein, American Exceptionalism, American Anxiety: Wages, Competition, and Degraded Labor in the Antebellum United States. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 2002. viii + 361 pp. $39.50 (hardcover), ISBN: 0-8139-2115-5.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Robert A. Margo, Department of Economics, Vanderbilt University.

It is said that the longest running debate in British economic history is the standard of living debate. No debate in American history can be as long running as any debate in British history. Nevertheless, Americans have our own version of the British debate. The issue, simply put is: did American workers “benefit” from early industrialization? For the American case, this comes down to the period from 1820 to 1860.

Until recently the prevailing wisdom on this issue among economic historians — if not labor historians — could be described as strongly Whiggish. Estimates of per capita incomes suggest that these grew in real terms. The distribution of economic rewards may have become more unequal, but not enough to reverse the gains. The quantitative evidence, however, did not seem to square all that well with qualitative accounts, which emphasized the inconstancy of work, the grinding poverty experienced by some groups, the difficulty of moving up, growing pauperism in certain cities, and widespread misery experienced during any of the several antebellum financial “panics.”

This was also a period during which wage labor grew substantially in relative importance. Few people worked for wages early in the nineteenth century, but far more did in 1860, particularly in eastern cities. Labor became a commodity, bought and sold like flour or rum.

Recent cliometric work has challenged the Whiggish point of view. Data on heights and mortality suggest that health conditions were worsening during early industrialization. Robert Fogel has called attention to the so-called “hidden depression” that afflicted eastern urban labor during the late 1840s and early 1850s. Fogel emphasizes several aspects of the transformation of workplaces during this period — the intensification of the pace of work, “de-skilling,” and so on — that are hard to measure and, therefore, have not been incorporated into various quantitative measures of the standard of living.

New estimates of real wages prepared by your reviewer also challenge the Whiggish perspective. If you believe me, real wages grew overall at about 1 percent per year between 1820 and 1860. This number is greater than zero but rather less than previous estimates. Artisans fared worse than common laborers, who fared worse than white-collar workers. Perhaps most importantly, growth was in fits and starts, and there were several periods of poor performance, notably the 1850s. This decade experienced what was perhaps the first “welfare explosion” in American history, partly because real wage performance was so poor.

Jonathan A. Glickstein’s new book is also about wage labor during early American industrialization, but it is not a quantitative work. Rather, its “data” consist of the written record of commentators of the time, primarily elites, commenting about the transformation of work occurring around them. It is about questions like: what did these people think were the good and bad points about a “free” labor market? Were workers motivated by the positive incentive of upward mobility, or the threat of starvation? If one might starve, would it have been better to be a slave? Why did some commentators extol the “intrinsic” benefits of common labor, particularly if it were work that they themselves would never do (being elites)? Broadly speaking, the book about the differences between “perception” and “reality” — if elites thought America was really such a promised land for free labor, why were the promises unfulfilled for so many — particularly, for those other than white males? Were the elites simply misinformed, or did they simply not care, perhaps because they were more interested in constructing an ideology that rationalized their own privileged status. (Jonathan A. Glickstein is Associate Professor of History at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the author of an earlier work on ante-bellum labor, Concepts of Free Labor in Antebellum America.)

Let it be said at the outset that, for someone like me, this book is not an easy read. It is full of words like “poststructuralism” and phrases like “linguistic turn.” There are no tables and no regressions and, therefore, no escaping the text. The text is densely written, the footnotes more so. However, the footnotes are also filled with references to the economic history literature and, allowing for publication lags, these are up-to-date. Your reviewer’s work is featured prominently in the Introduction, and in the footnotes, along with most of the other relevant economic historians. Glickstein doesn’t always agree with us, and sometimes he gets the story wrong. (For example, on p. 7, he claims that I find that eastern artisans “fared worst of all.” Assuming he means “northeastern,” these experienced higher real wage growth than artisans in the Midwest, or the South; see my Wages and Labor Markets, p. 51.) But he is never dismissive of economic history without reading, and I appreciate that (would that we economic historians were so charitable in reverse).

American Exceptionalism is divided into an Introduction, seven substantive chapters, and a Conclusion. The Introduction, as implied above, sets the stage, noting how recent work in economic history has challenged the Whiggish point of view. Glickstein’s interests, however, are not in the particulars of the debate in economic history, but rather in how individuals — as noted above, mostly elite — conceived of wage labor. Chapter One, “The World’s Dirty Work,” considers views expressed at the time about whether common labor carried “intrinsic” rewards (such as building character) or had only “extrinsic” value (that is, in facilitating consumption, as assumed in the standard labor-leisure model). It also considers the development of beliefs that America was exceptional in the opportunities it provided ambitious free labor — and, therefore, why those who failed did so through their own fault.

Chapter Two, “Pressures from the Bottom,” focuses on how evidence contrary to exceptionalism was to be reconciled. What is one to make of the benefits of a “free” labor system when paupers were swarming on city streets? Perhaps, some commentators suggested, they swarmed because the availability of poor relief “distorted natural market forces” (p. 69). It also considers some of the rhetoric of anti-slavery discourse, in particular, whether slavery “freed” the slave from the risk (and attendant anxiety of facing) starvation, and how this could be weighed against the loss of “hope” — that is, freedom and upward mobility.

Chapter Three, “Buy Cheap, Sell Dear,” takes as its point of departure some of Horace Greeley’s observations on strikes, “especially those of the Iron Puddlers of Pittsburgh.” Greeley admonishes the workers for complaining that their wages “ought” to be higher because the employer can “afford” it. Who among the strikers, Greeley asks, gave the same consideration to the poor widowed seamstress who made the men’s shirts? Glickstein points out, however, that one’s own pursuit of self-interest, given the rules of the economic game, does not mean that one would not prefer different rules. While acknowledging that self-interested behavior proceeded the “market revolution” of the early nineteenth century, Glickstein still insists that that “industrial and urban capitalist components” of the revolution led to a new social norm, one in which a “competitive free-market ethos … did come to govern a plethora of social and economic relationships” (p. 113). Chapter Four, “Further Social Consequences of the Market Mechanism,” examines some of the difficulties that early labor activists faced in reconciling nascent versions of the labor theory of value with the emerging capitalist ideology.

Chapters Five through Seven are inter-related in their use of Gresham’s Law as an organizing device. As originally conceived, Gresham’s Law applied to bad money but in its more general guise, it can apply to bad anything — in Glickstein’s case, “bad” labor arrangements driving out the “good.” Chapter Five examines an address by George M. Weston, a prominent anti-slavery writer of the era. Ostensibly “about” how slavery reduced the wages of free labor, Glickstein also uses the address to segue into two other forms of “cheap” labor. Attitudes towards the first of these, convict labor, are examined in Chapter Six. Convict labor refers to the practice on the part of state government officials of making prisoners available to private contractors. Never widespread, the practice was nevertheless widely condemned at the time by ante-bellum labor organizations. Chapter Seven draws attention to the fact that restrictions placed on the use of convict labor adopted by the New York State Legislature in the early 1840s exempted domestic employers who competed directly with imported manufactured goods. These exemptions recognized, or so the claim went, that such imports were produced by cheap (“pauper”) labor. As a consequence, American manufacturers needed the exemptions to be competitive.

American Exceptionalism is a demanding work. Glickstein makes few concessions to readers who are not fluent in contemporary “humanistic” approaches to historical writing. If I have one criticism, it is that Glickstein might have drawn more parallels with our own time. (Chapter Seven, which notes the resonance of the debate over “pauper” labor with contemporary debates over “globalization,” is a partial exception.) However, the questions that motivate this study are fascinating and well worth the attention of cliometricians, even if they are not the questions that we are used to asking.

Robert A. Margo is Professor of Economics and History, Vanderbilt University, and Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research. He is the author of Wages and Labor Markets in the United States, 1820-1860 (Chicago, 2000) and (with Joel Perlmann) Women’s Work? American Schoolteachers, 1650-1920 (Chicago, 2001).

Subject(s):Living Standards, Anthropometric History, Economic Anthropology
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):19th Century

Farm Production in England 1700-1914

Author(s):Turner, M. E.
Beckett, J. V.
Afton, B.
Reviewer(s):Verdon, Nicola

Published by EH.NET (August 2002)

M. E. Turner, J. V. Beckett and B. Afton, Farm Production in England

1700-1914. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. xii + 295 pp. $74 or ?45

(hardback), ISBN: 0-19-820804-9.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Nicola Verdon, Rural History Centre, University of


When was the English agriculture revolution? This is one of those key

questions that historians have been debating for many decades. In their new

book, Michael Turner of the University of Hull, and John Beckett and Bethanie

Afton from the University of Nottingham, present fresh evidence on farm output

during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and in doing do offer a

reinterpretation of the timing and nature of the agricultural revolution in


Lord Ernle penned the classic account of the agricultural revolution back in

the early twentieth century. He stressed the importance of technological and

institutional change, the introduction of new crops and the ‘Great Men’ who

encouraged the adoption of them in the period running concurrently with the

industrial revolution (c.1750-1850). This perspective was undermined by a wave

of new scholarship in the 1960s, led by J. D. Chambers and G. E. Mingay, E. L

Jones, and Eric Kerridge. These studies stressed the importance of change in

the period before 1750 and widened the parameters of the agricultural

revolution (although Chambers and Mingay still cited the period 1750 to 1850 as

the key one). F. M. L. Thompson, meanwhile, suggested that after 1815 a ‘second

agricultural revolution’ took place. Since then new sources which allow a more

thorough quantitative assessment of output and productivity have been sought by

historians, with recent research by Mark Overton, for example, stressing once

more the importance of the century between 1750 and 1850.

Turner, Beckett and Afton maintain however that much of the available ‘hard

data’ are weak and a ‘significant gap’ in our understanding of the agricultural

revolution persists because of deficiencies in surviving evidence from the

eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (p. 24). Before the 1860s no official,

systematic data on agricultural output were recorded and historians have been

reliant on the data collected by Arthur Young and the authors of the General

Views of Agriculture, amongst others. As Turner, Beckett and Afton point out,

these are not necessarily systematic or unbiased. Instead, they suggest, fresh

data exist in the form of farm records. In chapter two the range and scope of

this material is examined. The authors do not draw back from highlighting the

limitations of these records. Farm accounts, labor records and memorandum books

are ‘highly individualistic documents,’ and vary greatly in quality and

quantity (p. 61). Yet, Turner, Beckett and Afton insist that when analyzed

together, their possibilities are enormous: ‘In truth it is a magnificent

collection which has been virtually neglected in the numerous efforts made to

understand the agricultural history of the two centuries or so prior to 1914′

(p. 212). Farm Production in England is then, the first systematic

attempt to analyze the evidence on agricultural output and practice provided in

farm records. What do they find?

Chapter Three deals with the question of the changing nature of farming

practice and techniques in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. However,

the problems associated with using farm records are immediately apparent and

the authors concede that such sources only offer an impressionistic and

qualitative perspective on this issue. The evidence does suggest though that

‘agriculture moved, albeit slowly, from a low input/low output position in the

early eighteenth century, to a higher input/higher output agricultural economy

in the mid-nineteenth century’ (p. 115). This contention is explored in much

greater depth in the next three chapters when output in the key agricultural

sectors – wheat, barley, oats and livestock – is assessed. New estimates of

wheat yields based on farm records show an average for the 1720s of 19 bushels

per acre, rising to 21-22 bushels by the mid eighteenth century. This declined

in the 1780s and 1790s, but thereafter the trend was upward, rising to a peak

in the 1840s at around 30 bushels per acre. After this yields settled to a

plateau of 27-28 for the remainder of the century (Table 4.4, p. 129). Wheat

yields therefore suggest that the agricultural revolution should be firmly

located in the first four decades of the nineteenth century. Barley yields

point to a similar conclusion, with the key period for rising yields being

between the 1820s and 1840s (Table 5.1, p. 153). The trend in oat yields is not

so emphatic but also shows a considerable increase in yields in the first half

of the nineteenth century, reaching a peak of nearly 50 bushels per acre in the

1840s (p. 157). Observations on other crops (rye, beans and peas) are fewer but

also show trends comparable to wheat, with an upward curve in output in the

second quarter of the nineteenth century. Put together, all this evidence on

crop output becomes ‘compelling evidence of a real, and sustained, break with

the past’ (p. 213).

Animal carcass weights also indicate advances, with the increase in size of

lambs and calves the best indicators of productivity improvements. Although the

authors concede that measuring livestock output is ‘very complicated’ (p. 173)

and fraught with pit-falls, overall ‘we have no reason to doubt that the output

of the livestock sector improved in terms of both numbers and weights’ (p.

215). In their concluding chapter the authors argue that English agriculture

successfully fed a growing population, with yields rising significantly from

the turn of the nineteenth century. Farm records therefore place the

agricultural revolution ‘firmly within the period from about 1800 to 1850′ (p.


This book lends powerful support to the view of the agricultural revolution as

a phenomenon largely of the first half of the nineteenth century. The evidence

presented on wheat yields – often seen as the standard gauge for the state of

English agriculture in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries – is especially

useful. But caution is needed. There are clearly many problems with using farm

records to date the agricultural revolution. Turner, Beckett and Afton base

their findings on evidence from just under one thousand estate or

owner-occupied farms. Although at least one record comes from every English

county, the regional base of the dataset is skewed in favor of the south-east.

More importantly, data from individual farms can significantly skew the

results. This is especially the case for livestock figures, which are the least

convincing part of the thesis. In addition, farm records tell us little about

how crop yields were increased or about labor productivity. Farm records

then, perhaps do not offer the watertight solution to the issue of when and how

the agricultural revolution occurred. Yet this is an important and innovative

book and a useful addition to the historiography on one of the key questions of

modern English history.

Nicola Verdon is a Research Fellow in the Rural History Centre, University of

Reading. Recent publications on female and child work patterns in the

nineteenth-century English countryside have appeared in the Agricultural

History Review (2001) and the Economic History Review (2002). Her

book Rural Women Workers: Gender, Work and Wages in the Nineteenth-Century

Countryside will be published by Boydell in November 2002.

Subject(s):Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Extractive Industries
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Time Period(s):20th Century: Pre WWII

Time and Work in England 1750-1830

Author(s):Voth, Hans-Joachim
Reviewer(s):Humphries, Jane

Published by EH.NET (February 2002)

Hans-Joachim Voth, Time and Work in England 1750-1830. Oxford: Oxford

University Press, 2001. viii + 304 pp. $65 (hardcover), ISBN: 0-19-924194-5.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Jane Humphries, All Souls College, Oxford.

Whether people worked harder during the industrial revolution is a question

with “Oomph!” as Deirdre McCloskey would say. Great economic historians from

Marx to E. P. Thompson have addressed it. More recently, Robert Fogel, Jan de

Vries and John Hatcher have entered the fray. Is there anything left to say?

Time and Work in England 1750-1830 brings both new evidence and a new

approach to this celebrated issue.

The “Oomph!” is in the implications. First, time use bears on the role of

technical change in industrialization. Modern economic historians have debunked

the old-fashioned view of the industrial revolution as involving rapid

technical progress by showing that increases in factor inputs accounted for a

large part of growth. As Nick Crafts first noted total factor productivity

growth would need further reduction if more accurate estimates of labor input

became available which scaled up those based on the growth of the working-age

population. Second, time use bears on the standard of living debate. To enjoy

leisure is a valued human functioning. If working people enjoyed less free time

during industrialization, estimates of their welfare gains must be adjusted to

reflect this loss.

For the pre-industrial period and the industrial revolution, records of either

the number of hours worked per day or days per year are scarce and scattered.

Historians resorted to literary materials, regulations, occasional government

reports and employment records. Such evidence illustrated E. P. Thompson’s

argument that in pre-industrial times work was irregular and uneven with St

Monday symbolizing a leisurely start to a working week that often ended in a

storm of effort as workers struggled to complete tasks. With an increasing

division of labor and larger-scale capital, work and workers had to become more

regular and disciplined. The drive for surplus value motivated employers to

extend as well as intensify work. Thompson’s evidence was not convincing to

modern economic historians who preferred more systematic testing. Nor did

surveys of rules and regulations and case studies of employment build


Economic historians turned to the indirect evidence offered by nutritional

standards, or contradictory trends in real wages and probate inventories, or

comparisons of annual full employment income with daily wage rates, all of

which were made to yield inferences about time use. Inferences can even be

teased from the seasonality of conception, the timing of “crowd events” and the

scheduling of weddings. A Sherlock Holmes-type economic historian, Voth clearly

enjoys the cleverness of these indirect approaches but acknowledges that they

too failed to resolve the issue. “What is needed is a new method that yields

direct evidence on patterns of labour and leisure among the population at

large, and on a broad empirical basis. This data should be available on a

consistent basis, from the same source, and should be collected for more than

one location” (p.16). Both are provided by the ingenious use of court records.

From the witness statements of more than 2,800 men and women, Voth extracted

all mentions of time use for three periods (1749-63, 1799-1803, and 1829-30).

At every opportunity he recorded what a particular individual was doing at a

particular time. Originally his attention was limited to London (see Voth,

1998), but anxious to include the crucible of industrialization, the monograph

also examines evidence from the Northern Assize Depositions.

The court records reveal the timing (by hour, day, and month) of crime, but

also the structure of daily life as lived by the working men and women who

happened to witness crime. Voth can estimate when they got up and went to bed,

when they started work and stopped. Schedules can be compared over time and

between London and the North. In London, an approximately 12-hour working day

appears to lengthen and then contract, while the initially longer hours in the

North were further extended by 1830. But as both starting and stopping times

are observed with an error the statistical significance of these differences

cannot be demonstrated.

The court records also facilitate estimation of the working week and year.

Non-random variation in the numbers working by weekday while suggestive is not

sufficient to demonstrate the existence of St. Monday. To this end Voth

constructs a dichotomous variable, one if the witness was working, zero

otherwise, and then regresses it on a set of other characteristics including

the days of the week so uncovering the probability of working by day of the

week. Alas only simple logistic regressions on the day dummies are reported.

Traditional interpretations receive support. For London, the odds of observing

somebody in work and its statistical significance suggest that St Monday ceased

to be celebrated between 1760 and 1830. The later days of the week, when

workloads purportedly increased, show higher than average work probabilities

that are statistically significant in the case of Friday for 1800 and in the

case of Saturday for 1800 and 1830. In the North there is no evidence of St

Monday, either before or after 1800, nor of increasing work frequency by Friday

or Saturday. In the 1750s, holy days saw a strong reduction in the probability

of observing somebody at work both in London and in the North. By 1800 this

effect had vanished completely in London but lingered in the North. Similar

analyses of the probability of observing a person at leisure were conducted for

the London data providing supporting results. Alternative methods of

aggregating up to hours per year and combining the results for London and the

North are worked through providing seven different indexes of annual hours. The

differences are small and all estimates well within the range suggested by

earlier authors. Annual hours increased somewhere between 14 and 32 percent

(p.131). Elementary, my dear reader!

Voth anticipates objections to his method. One is bothersome. The disappearance

of St Monday and decline in the likelihood of not working on holy days might

reflect not a net increase in labor hours but rather increasingly randomized

time-use as individuals dispersed their holidays through the week and year

according to their own increasingly secular preferences. If this were the case,

retorts Voth, there would be an increase over time in the proportion of cases

misclassified, in the logistic regressions. There is some evidence of this in

the London data, though not enough Voth charges, to have obliterated the

significance of the coefficients on the holy days and the Mondays.

Why did people work longer hours? Five competing hypotheses are explored:

declining nutritional constraints; increasing dependency; better health;

cultural changes; and, the desire to consume. Each receives incisive

assessment, though Voth displays the prejudices of the economic historian in

his snippety treatment of cultural changes.

Voth’s preferred explanation remains the increasing attractions of consumption.

But there is a wrinkle in his consumer revolution. A firm pessimist on the real

wage front, it is the asymmetry between the ability and the

desire to spend that drives up labor input. Voth also suggests that the

rising dependency ratio explains about a quarter of the increase in hours. This

rescues an important and neglected feature of the period and slots it neatly

into place. My own current work on increasing child labor implicates rising

dependency as an explanatory factor.

In moving from estimates of annual hours to aggregate labor inputs, Voth

acknowledges the importance of assumptions about participation rates. In

particular, if the participation rates of women were declining between 1750 and

1830, this would offset some of the growth in labor input. On the other hand

declining female participation rates imply additional numbers of dependents and

strengthens this pressure driving men’s longer hours. Gender (and class)

differences in the timing of activities are given brief attention with rather

predictable results (women dominate unpaid activities and appear less likely to

have leisure). More generally, I remain convinced that women’s distinctive

experience in the labor markets of the period cautions against attempting to

uncover a general trend in hours of work especially from a data set in

which 84.7 percent of the observations refer to men.

Voth’s book lends powerful support to the new view of the industrial

revolution. With increased labor input total factor productivity barely grew at

all, and the first seventy years of industrialization delivered even more

paltry improvements in living standards than hitherto estimated.

Jane Humphries has published extensively on gender, the family and the history

of women’s work. Her main current research interest is in the relationship

between the family and the economy in the past and in the present. Among her

recent works are “Cliometrics, Child Labor, and the Industrial Revolution,”

Critical Review (2000) and “Women’s Labour Force Participation and the

Transition to the Male-Breadwinner Family, 1790-1865,” with Sara Horrell,

Economic History Review (1995).

Subject(s):Living Standards, Anthropometric History, Economic Anthropology
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Time Period(s):19th Century