WP Global Economy 2021.05.21
The impact of the Industrial Revolution on labor has long attracted the interest of economists as well as economic historians, and recent technological changes and changes in the labor market have newly raised interest in this issue. The accepted view is that technological change in the Industrial Revolution was deskilling and lowered the wage of workers. This paper reexamines this view, by investigating the silk weaving industry in early twentieth-century Japan, which experienced the Industrial Revolution. Power looms, a major technological innovation in the Industrial Revolution, substituted for routine tasks of handloom weavers, and thereby made weavers concentrate on nonroutine tasks, such as stopping looms and supplying warp or weft when it ran out and connecting threads when they broke. Using the model of Autor et al. (2003) and newly constructed plant-level panel data, this paper studies the implications of this change in labor for wages. We find that adoption of power looms was associated with significant increases in the wage of both female and male adult workers, playing a central role in weaving, which suggests the need for revision of the view that technological change in the Industrial Revolution was deskilling.
Key words: Technological change, Industrial Revolution, Skill, Wage, Economic history