Class structure and inequality during the industrial revolution: lessons from England's social tables, 1688–1867

Published Online:
12 Feb 2018
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This article measures the size and incomes of six major social classes across the industrial revolution using social tables for England and Wales in 1688, 1759, 1798, 1846, and 1867. Lindert and Williamson famously revised these tables, and this article extends their work in three directions. First, servants are removed from middle‐ and upper‐class households in the tables of King, Massie, and Colquhoun and tallied separately. Second, estimates are made for the same tables of the number and incomes of women and children employed in the various occupations, and, third, incomes are broken down into rents, profits, and employment income. These extensions to the tables allow variables to be computed that can be checked against independent estimates as a validation exercise. The tables are retabulated in a standardized set of six social groups to highlight the changing structure of society across the industrial revolution. Gini coefficients are computed from the social tables to measure inequality. These measures confirm that Britain traversed a ‘Kuznets curve’ in this period. Changes in overall inequality are related to the changing fortunes of the major social classes.

© Economic History Society 2018

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