Skill choice and skill complementarity in eighteenth century England

Naomi E. Feldman, Karine van der Beek*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


This paper analyzes the effects of technological change on skill acquisition during the British Industrial Revolution. Based on a unique set of data on apprenticeships between 1710 and 1772, we show that both the number of apprentices and their share in the cohort of the fifteen year-olds increased in response to inventions. The strongest response was in the highly skilled mechanical trades. These results suggest that technological change in this period was skill biased due to the expansion of the machinery sector they induced.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)94-113
Number of pages20
JournalExplorations in Economic History
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2016
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Bob Allen, Steve Broadberry, Nick Crafts, Oded Galor, Jane Humphries, Moshe Justman, Ilana Krausman Ben-Amos, Tim Leunig, Shirlee Lichtman-Sadot, David Mitch, Joel Mokyr, Joachim Voth, Patrick Wallis, Jacob Weisdorf, Ro'i Zultan and numerous seminar and conference participants for helpful comments and discussions. This paper received financial support from the Institute for New Economic Thinking (Grant IN01100027 ) and from the Israeli Science Foundation (contract 1097/11 ). The findings and views reported in this paper are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the above individuals, organizations or the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve. All errors are ours.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Published by Elsevier Inc.


  • Apprenticeship
  • Eighteenth-century England
  • Human capital
  • Industrial revolution
  • Machine making
  • Mechanical trades
  • Skill-biased technological change


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