DP11999 Unreal Wages? Real Income and Economic Growth in England, 1260-1850

Author(s): Jane Humphries, Jacob Weisdorf
Publication Date: April 2017
Keyword(s): England, industrial revolution, Industrious Revolution, Labour Supply, living standards, Malthusian model, real wages
JEL(s): J3, J4, J5, J6, J7, J8, N33
Programme Areas: Economic History
Link to this Page: cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=11999

Existing accounts of workers' earnings in the past suffer from the fundamental problem that annual incomes are inferred from day wages without knowing the length of the working year. We circumvent this problem by presenting a novel income series for male workers employed on annual contracts. We use evidence of labour market arbitrage to argue that existing estimates of annual incomes in England are badly off target, because they overestimate the medieval working year but underestimate the working year during the industrial revolution. Our revised income estimates suggests that modern economic growth began more than two centuries earlier than commonly thought and was driven by an early and continuing "Industrious Revolution".