BI Business History seminar

Technological Change and the Division of Labor: Opportunity and Inequality in the Industrial Revolution

  • Starts:11:30, 23 September 2022
  • Ends:13:00, 23 September 2022
  • Location:BI Norwegian Business School, Campus Oslo, room A5I-171 and Zoom
  • Price:Free of charge
  • Contact:Espen Ekberg (espen.ekberg@bi.no)

The Centre for Business History at BI has the pleasure of inviting to an open seminar with Benjamin Schneider. Schneider is a postdoctoral fellow at OsloMet, where he is a part of the Centre for Research on Pandemics & Society. The title of his talk is «Technological Change and the Division of Labor: Opportunity and Inequality in the Industrial Revolution».


Automation is likely to be one of the main challenges of the 21st century (Brynjolfsson & McAfee 2014, Baldwin 2019) and following decades of technologically-driven job polarization in rich countries (Autor et al 2006, Goos & Manning 2007) “decent work for all” has been included in the Sustainable Development Goals. To analyze the impacts of transformative innovation on work, this paper applies a new index of historical job quality to sector case studies from Britain and the United States c. 1770–1850, using evidence from archival business records, workers’ diaries and letters, trade handbooks, and government publications. Macroinventions in the textile industry and interurban transportation widened the range of tasks, and employers responded by increasing the division of labor. The result was the creation of many new occupations, some of which were good jobs with high pay, job security, and safe conditions. However, technological change did little to improve the worst jobs, and the inequality of wellbeing rose. The paper adds systematic analysis of previously-neglected qualitative aspects of work to research on historical wellbeing, and suggests an explanation for the growing division of labor with changing technology.