Accounting for the industrial revolution

Joel Mokyr*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Introduction How do we account for the Industrial Revolution? In recent years, economic historians have had to redefine what they mean by the industrial revolution and to reassess its significance. On the one hand, the findings published in the 1990s by Crafts, Harley (Crafts and Harley 1992; Harley 1998) and others have reduced estimates of the rate of economic growth during the classic years of the industrial revolution, 1760 to 1830. These findings have been reinforced by recent work by scholars such as Antràs and Voth (2003) and Clark (2001b), who have shown that the sharp revisions downward to Deane and Cole’s (1967) estimates of the rates of growth and productivity change during the industrial revolution made by Crafts and Harley were, if anything, too optimistic and that little if any real per capita growth can be discerned in Britain before 1830. These conclusions are consistent with Feinstein’s (1998) recalculations of the growth in real wages, which showed very little secular increase before the mid-1840s. As a macroeconomic phenomenon, then, the Industrial Revolution in its ‘classical years’, 1760–1830, stands today diminished and weakened. It is now also widely realised that the Industrial Revolution was not ‘industrialisation’. On the eve of the Industrial Revolution Britain was a highly developed, commercialised, sophisticated economy in which a large proportion of the labour force was engaged in non-agricultural activities, and in which the quality of life as measured by the consumption of non-essentials and life expectancy was as high as could be expected anywhere on this planet.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Economic History of Modern Britain Volume 1
Subtitle of host publicationIndustrialisation, 1700-1860
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages27
ISBN (Electronic)9781139053853
ISBN (Print)0521820367, 9780521820363
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2004
Externally publishedYes


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