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Industrialization and Regional Inequality: Wages in Britain, 1760–1914

  • E. H. Hunt (a1)


This paper describes the geographical pattern of wages in Britain between 1760 and 1914. It then draws out some of the implications of the wages pattern and considers, in particular, the implications for the “growth pole” debate on the likely effect of industrialization upon regional income inequalities. The market forces responsible for creating and maintaining these differentials are then described, followed by a final section which discsusses the significance of changing regional wage differentials to the standar-of-living debate. It concludes that from a regional perspective the overall effects of industrialization upon living standards are indisputably favorable.



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1 Bowley, A. L., “The Statistics of Wages in the United Kingdom in the last Hundred Years: Part 1, Agricultural Wages,” Journal of the Royal Statistical Society [hereafter J.R.S.S.], 61 (12 1898), p. 706.

2 Morgan, V., “Agricultural Wage Rates in late Eighteenth-Century Scotland,” Economic History Review, 24 (05 1971), 190–1;Hamilton, H., Economic History of Scotland in the Eighteenth Century (Oxford, 1963), pp. 343, 353–4;Bowley, A. L., “The Statistics of Wages in the United Kingdom in the last Hundred Years: Part 2, Agricultural Wages in Scotland,” J.R.S.S., 62 (1899), p. 562;Smout, T. C., A History of the Scottish People, 1560–1830 (London, 1969), pp. 317–8, 399.

3 No figures for Welsh counties are available for 1794–1795. One or two Welsh counties may have qualified for inclusion in the “lowest-wage” category, but Bowley shows average farm wages for the whole of Wales at this date as 6s.8d.–7s.61. (Wages in the United Kingdom in the Nineteenth Century [Cambridge, 1900, endtable]; J.R.S.S. [12 1898], p. 706), so the majority of Welsh counties probably had wages that were low by English standards but above the level in most of Scotland.

4 Purdy, F., Bowley, A. L., Wood, G. H., and contributors to official inquiries all noticed this mid-century relative improvement in Scottish wages.Hunt, E. H., Regional Wage Variations in Britain, 1850–1914 (Oxford, 1973), p. 48.

5 Bowley, , “The Statistics of Wages in the United Kingdom: Part 6, Wages in the Building Trades in English Towns,” J.R.S.S. (06 1900), p. 302–8; Appendix, Table 5.

6 For 1833–1845 there are again no worthwhile figures of farm wages in separate Welsh counties, although some rural Welsh counties were almost certainly among the lowest-paid British counties (Hunt, Regional Wage Variations, pp. 21–2, 25). Bowley (J.R.S.S., Dec. 1898) estimated average farm wages in Wales as a whole at 8s.2d. to 8s.8d. in 1833 and 7s.6d. in 1837. Welsh figures are available for 1867–1870, when four Welsh counties appear among the 18 counties where wages were lowest (Figure 8).

7 Hunt, Regional Wage Variations, pp. 15, 39–40, 45–46.

8 Ibid., pp. 68–9.

9 Graham, P. A., The Rural Exodus, (London, 1892), p. 7;British and Foreign Trade and Industrial Conditions, Parliamentary Papers, 1903, 67, p. 211.

10 On rising relative wages in other occupations in South Wales, see Hunt, Regional Wage Variations, pp. 21–24.

11 Migration was age-selective and therefore conductive to higher (non-age-standardized) fertility in the receiving areas.

12 The “revisionist” interpretation is associated particularly with the work of Myrdal, Gunnar, Economic Theory and Under-developed Regions, (London, 1957). On the debate generally, see Richardson, H. W., Regional Economics: Location Theory, Urban Structure and Regional Change, (London, 1969), chap. 13;Williamson, Jeffrey G., “Regional Inequality and the Process of National Development,” Economic Development and Cultural Change, 13 (07 1965, part 2). On attempts to test the theories, see Bairoch, P. and Lévy-Leboyer, M., eds., Disparities in Economic Development since the Industrial Revolution (London, 1981).

13 There is insufficient evidence of wages in Welsh and Scottish countries at the earlier dates for these calculations to be applied to Britain as a whole.

14 According to Bowley's evidence, among the counties where wages moved from within 5 percent of average in 1794–1795 to more than 5 percent below average in 1833–1845 were Wiltshire, Dorset, Hampshire, and Oxfordshire. Among those that moved from within 5 percent of the average to above 5 percent of the average were Lincolnshire, Rutland, Cheshire, Cumberland, and Durham.

15 Most of these movements were those which reduced both the advantages of the northern counties and the overall level of wage differentials, but not all. Some arose from southeastern counties replacing southwestern counties at the foot of the county wage-table.

16 Bowley, J.R.S.S. (Dec. 1898), pp. 704–7.

17 See p. 946; and Hunt, Regional Wage Variations, pp. 21–27.

18 Levitt, and Smout, C., The State of the Scottish Working-Class in 1843 (Edinburgh, 1979), p. 81.

19 Ibid. pp. 80, 262; Morgan, “Agricultural Wage Rates,” pp. 189–91.

20 Hunt, E. H., “Labour Productivity in English Agriculture, 1850–1914,” Economic History Review, 20 (08 1967).

21 See, for example, Coleman, D. C., “Growth and Decay During the Industrial Revolution: The Case of East Anglia,” Scandinavian Economic History Review, 10 (part 2, 1962).

22 Hunt, Regional Wage Variations, chap. 4.

23 Defined here as all the counties of the southeast and East Anglia except those around London; ibid.

24 On the relationship between population growth and regional wage differentials generally, see Hunt, Regional Wage Variations, chap. 6.

25 The Webbs described English trade unionists in 1894 “aggregated in the thriving industrial districts of the north.” Webb, S. and Webb, B., The History of Trade Unionism, 1660–1920 (London, 1920), pp. 425–27, 741–43.

26 Hunt, E. H., British Labour History, 1815–1914 (London, 1981), pp. 206, 284, 292.

27 Hunt, Regional Wage Variations, pp. 251–65; and Hunt, British Labour History, pp. 145–48.

28 Argued in Hunt, British Labour History, pp. 171–76.

29 Engels, F., The Condition of the Working Class in England, in Henderson, W. O. and Chaloner, W. H., eds. (London, 1958 edn.), p. 107;Hechter, M., “Regional Inequality and National Integration: The Case of the British Isles,” Journal of Social History, 5 (Fall 19711972), p. 100.

30 Thompson, E. P., The Making of the English Working Class (London, 1968 edn.), p. 473.

31 Expenditure per capita on poor relief in Buckinghamshire in 1850 was more than twice the level in Lancashire. Parliamentary Papers. Returns of the Amount of Money Expended for … Relief of the Poor, 1850, 50, p. 63; 1851, 49, p. 89.

32 Bowley, Wages in the United Kingdom in the Nineteenth Century, pp. 58–59.

33 Tables 1, 2, and 3 are calculated from data on English counties only: thus the problem of comparability does not arise in that part of the analysis.

34 Young, A., A Six Months Tour Through the North of England, (London, 1770), vol. 4, Letter 37.

35 Gilboy, E. W., Wages in Eighteenth Century England, (Cambridge, Mass., 1934), p. 219.

36 Young, in Gilboy, Wages in Eighteenth Century England, p. 40.

37 Gilboy, Wages, p. 70.

38 Ibid., p. 224.

39 Lindert, Peter H. and Williamson, Jeffrey G., “English Workers' Living Standards During the Industrial Revolution: A New Look,” Economic History Review, 36 (02 1983), p. 19.

40 Richardson, T. L., “The Standard of Living Controversy, 1790–1840,” (Ph.D. diss., University of Hull, 1977), pp. 445–50.

41 Crafts, N. F. R., “Regional Price Variations in England in 1843: An Aspect of the Standard of Living Debate,” Explorations in Economic History, 19 (01 1982).

42 Hunt, Regional Wage Variations, chap. 2. For comparison with the markedly different situation in the United States, see Coelho, P. R. P. and Shepherd, J. F., “Regional Differences in Real Wages: The United States, 1851–1980,” Explorations in Economic History, 13 (04 1976).

43 Hunt, Regional Wage Variations, pp. 68, 102–3. Rent for two rooms was estimated at 2s. in Exeter and 4s.9d. in London (Hackney).

44 Ibid. pp. 39–40, 248.

45 Ibid. pp. 38, 121, 210–12.

46 See Saito, O., “Labour Supply Behaviour of the Poor in the English Industrial Revolution,” Journal of European Economic History, 10 (Winter 1981).

47 Hunt, Regional Wage Variations, chap. 3, “Family Earnings.”

48 Gilboy, Wages pp. 196–8, 209, 223; Levitt and Smout, State of the Scottish Working Class, pp. 79, 107; Morgan, “Agricultural Wage Rates,” pp. 193, 195–96.

50 Hunt, Regional Wage Variations, pp. 117–18; Levitt and Smout, State of the Scottish Working Class, pp. 79, 106.

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Industrialization and Regional Inequality: Wages in Britain, 1760–1914

  • E. H. Hunt (a1)


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