Human Capital Formation from Occupations: The ‘Deskilling Hypothesis’ Revisited

de Pleijt, A. and Weisdorf, J.

We use occupational titles from English parish registers in an attempt to test thedeskilling hypothesis, i.e. the notion that England’s Industrial Revolution was mainly skillsaving. We code the occupational titles of over 30,000 male workers according to the skillcontentof their work (using HISCLASS) to track the evolution of working skills in Englandbetween 1550 and 1850. Although we observe a minor rise in the share of ‘high-qualityworkmen’ deemed necessary by Mokyr and others to facilitate the Industrial Revolution, suchas joiners, turners, and wrights, we also find considerable growth in the share of unskilledworkers, from 20% in around 1700 to 39% in around 1850, fed mainly by falling shares ofsemi-skilled blue-collar workers, such as tailors, shoemakers, and weavers. This supports theview that England’s Industrial Revolution was not only skill saving on average but alsoinvolved a proletarianization of the English workforce.