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Lecture 9

A New Labour Force - Women and Industry

1.Consumer Industries and their labour forces.

The new products of the eighteenth century were produced in new ways and by new labour forces in order to do so.

The whole range of new products we see appearing in the eighteenth century - from fashionable cotton textiles to fine ceramics and glassware, and new metal ornament and mechanical gadgetswere all products of new technologies, new ways of working and new labour forces - and those new labour forces were fundamentally those of women and children

2. New Labour Forces in Present-day China

Look at the new labour forces in present-day Chinese cities. Qiuautou in Zhejiang province, once a small community, is now the global capital of buttons and zips.

And the workforce of most of these new factories is young women.

3. How was the Consumer Revolution of the Eighteenth Century produced.

We do not know precisely how many such women and children were employed because at the aggregate and national level occupational data was only collected for men. The census did not start systematically to record women’s occupations until 1851.

4. The Supply of Women’s Labour

Demographic research indicates that there were higher proportions of women and children in the eighteenth century population than there had been previously. Children aged 5-14 made up one quarter of the population in the 1820s. Gender rations were skewed towards women for much of the 17th and 18th Centuries

5. New Manufacturing and the Demand for Women’s Labour

The textile industries formed the largest manufacturing sector in the 18thC. - and women dominated all its major branches

The cotton factory labour force of 1818 showed that women accounted for a little over half the workforce, and children a substantial proportion.

In Scotland, these proportions were even more marked. Women and girls made up 61 per cent of the workforce in Scottish cotton mills

Other Textile Industries

Metalwares and earthenware

6. Why were women employed in high tech. industries

To sum up we see a concentration of women and young workers in high-productivity branches of manufacture - textiles, potteries and metal goods.

Protoindustrial manufactures had female workforces exceeding male by four and even eight to one.

Why was this the case at a time when there was so much disguised and real unemployment among male workers in the manufacturing sector?

The usual reason given for the employment of women rather than men in industry is cheap labour.

It was not wages which determined the gender divide - but the organizational and technological attributes of a women’s workforce

7. Women and technology

this division of labour - introduced at the outset of industrialization did not cause women’s low wages and inferior status

-the division of labour instead was an effect of the social hierarchy prevailing at the time - women’s tasks were considered to be inferior only because they had been consigned to women.

8. Wages

Women’s wages and household subsistence


Horrell and Humphries ‘Old Questions, New Data and Alternative Perspecties: Families’ Living Standards in the Industrial Revolution’, Journal of Economic History, vol. 52, no. 4, 1992

9. The Impact of Mechanisation

While in some cases mechanisation, when introduced, brought with it a new female workforce - in many other cases the mechanisation displaced much more women’s work.

We do not have sufficient quantitative evidence to resolve the problem of just what impact mechanisation had on women’s work

current estimates of value added in industry show that the place of the new sectors was not large enough to absorb the numbers of women displaced in agriculture and domestic spinning

10. Conclusion - an 18thC. Labour Force

This female and child labour force was uniquely an 18thC. Workforce - in terms of their proportionate contribution to the manufacturing labour force. Women workers played a greater part over the whole course of the eighteenth century than they had done previously, and were to do in the later stages of industrialisation.