Precocious albion: A new interpretation of the British Industrial revolution

Morgan Kelly, Joel Mokyr, Cormac Ó Gráda

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

71 Scopus citations


Many explanations have been offered for the British Industrial Revolution. This article points to the importance of human capital (broadly defined) and the quality of the British labor force on the eve of the Industrial Revolution. It shows that in terms of both physical quality and mechanical skills, British workers around 1750 were at a much higher level than their continental counterparts. As a result, new inventions-no matter where they originated-were adopted earlier, faster, and on a larger scale in Britain than elsewhere. The gap in labor quality is consistent with the higher wages paid in eighteenth-century Britain. The causes for the higher labor quality are explored and found to be associated with a higher level of nutrition and better institutions, especially Englands Poor Law and the superior functioning of its apprenticeship system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)363-389
Number of pages27
JournalAnnual Review of Economics
StatePublished - Aug 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • economic growth
  • human capital
  • income distribution
  • skills
  • technological change


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