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Technology-Skill Complementarity on the Eve of the Industrial Resolution: New Evidence from England (1710-1772)

This research project focuses on the effect of the technological changes that led to the British Industrial Revolution in the eighteenth century on the market for skilled workers.

The Industrial Revolution was the first period in which technological progress and innovation became major factors in economic growth. It began with the mechanization of the textile industries, the development of iron-making techniques, the increased use of refined coal, and the introduction of steam power. Although endogenous growth models usually associate technological change with acceleration in demand for human capital and with skill formation, many economic historians tend to perceive the Industrial Revolution as being deskilling, in that it substituted highly skilled artisans for physical capital, raw materials, and unskilled labor. At present, hardly any studies examine this question quantitatively, due to the limited amount of available evidence on human capital for eighteenth-century England. The project aims to revisit the debate over whether the technological changes in eighteenth-century England were skill-biased or skill-substituting, using an exceptional and comprehensive set of evidence from tax records on apprentice indentures from all over Great Britain between 1710 and 1772 and examining it systematically within the framework of human capital theory.