Industrious Revolution

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The Industrious Revolution is the title given to a period of time, usually given as between 1600 and 1800[1] that led up to the Industrial Revolution. It is a term first coined by the Japanese demographic historian Akira Hayami(速水融),[2] and accepted by other historians to help further explain the advent of the Industrial Revolution. Much of this theory deals with the spending behaviours of families in the period. It also deals with the production and consumption of goods. In fact, Industrious Revolutions are often characterized by a rise in demand for "market-supplied goods",[3] which will minimize the value of domestic goods, before the ultimate consumption. Industrious Revolutions often occur during a period where labour wages have stagnated or decreased.[3] The theory of a pre-industrial Industrious Revolution is contested within the history community.


Hayami introduced the concept of Industrious Revolution in a Japanese-language work published in 1967. It was coined to compare the labour-intensive technologies of Tokugawa Japan (1603-1868) with the capital-intensive technologies of Britain's Industrial Revolution.[4] Hayami observed that the two countries took different paths due to the different mix of factor endowments (capital for Britain and labour for Japan). He introduced Industrious Revolution to describe the Japanese developmental trajectory, which - lacking the British capital - exploited the benefits of increasing labour absorption.[5]

Industrious vs. Industrial Revolution[edit]

This proposed Industrious Revolution does not aim to replace the Industrial Revolution in history; rather it is designed to supplement it. By revamping the history of the period directly preceding the Industrial Revolution, some historians hope to ensure that people get a better understanding of a particular aspect of the Early Modern Period.[citation needed]

The basic picture painted of the pre-Industrial Revolution is that the Industrial Revolution was the result of a surplus of money and crops, which led to the development of new technology. This new technology eventually developed into factories. The Industrious Revolution addresses this belief, saying instead, that the overwhelming desire for more goods directly preceded the Industrial Revolution. The theory states that during the Industrious Revolution there was an increase in demand for goods, but that supply did not rise as quickly.[6]

Eventually, some achievements of industry and agriculture, as well as the decisions made by households, helped to increase the supply, as well as the demand for goods. These behaviours, when combined constitute an Industrious Revolution.[6] A quick summation of the differences between the Industrious Revolution and the Industrial Revolution is that the former is concerned with demand, and the latter is supply based.[7] The right mindset to a productional economy and world may have increased the supply of technology, but they would have had little impact on invention without a demand for new techniques.[citation needed]

The theory of an Industrious Revolution, as put forward by historian Jan de Vries, claims that there were two parts to the Industrious Revolution. First, there was a reduction of leisure time as the utility of monetary income rose. Second, the focus of labour shifted from goods and services to marketable goods.[8]

In a later work, Hayami cited that de Vries and other theorists' interpretations did not use the term in the same way he does. Hayami noted that these saw Industrious Revolution and Industrial Revolution as a continuum while the original idea considers the two revolutions as opposing concepts.[9] Hayami also stressed that the term explained how the Japanese became industrious for some reason at one point and that eventually they will no longer be.[9]

Some within the field of cultural history have theorized that a further motive for an industrious revolution is a shift in the view on what it takes for an individual to be considered independent. Independence was equated with land ownership prior to an industrious revolution. Wage earners were granted a degraded and dependent status. Typically, as in the case of pre-industrial Great Britain and America, these dependent sorts were deemed unworthy of full citizenship rights. Industrious revolutions shift the meaning of independence from land-holding to earning a competency. A wage earner could now be considered independent if he/she earned enough money to support a household. Hard work was viewed as essential for reaching this goal.[citation needed][weasel words]

The length of the historical working year[edit]

One of the suggested hallmarks of an Industrious Revolution is that of increased work days. However, according to historians Gregory Clark and Ysbrand Van Der Werf, there has been no information found to suggest an increase in work days, in the time period between the Medieval Period and the nineteenth century.[10] These records even indicate that before 1750, some people were working three hundred days per year.[11] Even in the period preceding the Industrial Revolution people were working at least two hundred and ninety days in a year.[12] So, this information would demonstrate that there was very little increase in days worked. Since increase in work loads is one of the suggested hallmarks of an Industrious Revolution, this would work against the theory.

Clark and Van Der Werf have also examined the output of a couple of English industries. For one, they looked at records of the saw mills in England. Between 1300 and 1800, the period directly preceding and following the proposed Industrious Revolution, the estimated amount of lumber sawed increased about eighty percent.[13] However, this increase in lumber sawed can be attributed to new technologies, and not in fact the influence of an Industrious Revolution. In contrast, they mention the threshing industry. Unlike the lumber sawing business, this industry shows "clear downward movement"[14] in threshing rates, after which there are no longer any trends.[14] This information would help to disprove the idea of an Industrious Revolution, since, as it has been put forth, there is no universal trend displaying an increase of work habits.

While direct information on the number of days worked per year in pre modern times is scant, indirect estimates of annual labour inputs support the idea of increased industriousness in England. Robert Allen and Jacob Weisdorf inferred the length of the historical working year by dividing the costs of supporting an average family by the daily wage rate at the time.[15] Their exercise suggests that the early modern working year grew longer both in rural and urban areas. In rural areas, however, increased industriousness resulted from workers' attempts to maintain their standards of living in the face of falling real wages. This does not support the hypothesis that industriousness served to increase the demand for goods. In urban areas, on the other hand, where real wages were rising and the working days required to support a family declined, the gap between the observed working year and the work needed to cover basic family expenses grew wider. This supports the idea that labour inputs and therefore workers' earnings rose relative to what was required for basic subsistence.

Using an estimation strategy based on labour market arbitrage originally proposed by Clark and Van der Werf, a later study by Humphries and Weisdorf shows similar rising trends in early modern labour inputs.[16] The approach implies that day rates in combination with annual rates facilitate the computation of the working year needed in day labour in order to obtain the income that could be earned by annual employees. The method suggests that labour input per year in England grew more than two-fold, from less than 150 days during the medieval period to well over 300 days during the Industrial Revolution.

Production of goods[edit]

Prior to the proposed era of the Industrious Revolution most goods were produced either by household or by guilds.[17] There were many households involved in the production of marketable goods. Most of what was produced by these households were things that involved cloth- textiles, clothing, as well as art,[17] and tapestries.[18] These would be produced by the households, or by their respective guilds. It was even possible for guilds and merchants to outsource into more rural areas, to get some of the work done. These merchants would bring the raw materials to the workers, who would then, using the supplied materials, make the goods.[19] For example, young girls would be hired to make silk, because they were the only people believed to have hands dexterous enough to make the silk properly.[20] Other occupations such as knitting, a job that was never organized into guilds, could easily be done within the household.[21]

The income of the household became dependent upon the quality and the quantity of everyone's work.[22] Even if people were not working for an individual guild they could still supply and make items not controlled by the guilds. These would be small, but necessary items like wooden dishes, or soaps.[23] So, basically, much of production was done by, or for, guilds. This would indicate that much of what was done was not done for one individual household, but for a larger group or organization.

Prior to the Industrious Revolution, the household was the major site of production, and could be comparable to a factory. However, things were to change a bit during the Industrious Revolution. If the theory is to be believed, then there was a shift in the running of the household. The everyday goods and products used by the household would slowly shift from mostly homemade, to mostly "commercially produced goods".[24] At the same time, the women would be more than likely to be able to attain jobs outside of the household.[25] This is also seen within the context of the Industrial Revolution, where women would often find small jobs to help supplement their husband's wages.[26] This would demonstrate the gradual movement away from the household as a centre of production.

Patterns of consumption[edit]

The patterns of consumption present in England at this time period were similar to what one might find in Europe, as well as in some of the Ottoman territories. This is unsurprising, however, since most of Europe and the Ottoman Empire were all connected through trade.[27] Through these trade connections, people were able to buy many of the luxury goods that they desired. Very common amongst the nobility was the idea of Conspicuous consumption. This can be traced back, even into the Middle Ages. People, the nobility especially, had trade connections throughout Europe, and many of them would use these connections to buy the works of art, etc. that they desired.[28] This does not extend only to the rich however: even Medieval peasants enjoyed imported luxury items; there is evidence to suggest that some English peasants drank imported French wine.[29]

People were consuming products well before the Industrious Revolution. There were stock exchanges all over Europe, even London.[21] People were also clearly making products for consumption, as the large number of guilds existing within Europe at that point would suggest. What would cause the period between 1600 and 1800 to be labeled an Industrious Revolution, by looking at the patterns of consumption, is the rise in demand for these products.[6] So, what would set this period in time apart would be more demands for luxury items. Especially those items that could not be produced in the homes or by the guilds. During the proposed Industrious Revolution, this demand for luxury items would be greater than the supply could accommodate.[22] A rise in the rate at which people were consuming goods, especially when combined with other factors of the times, could have potentially heralded the Industrious Revolution.


  1. ^ Clark & Van Der Werf (1998), p. 841.
  2. ^ De Vries (2008), p. 78.
  3. ^ a b De Vries (1994), p. 265.
  4. ^ de Vries, Jan (2008). The Industrious Revolution: Consumer Behavior and the Household Economy, 1650 to the Present. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press. pp. 78. ISBN 9780521895026.
  5. ^ Arrighi, Giovanni; Hamashita, Takeshi; Selden, Mark (2003). The Resurgence of East Asia: 500, 150 and 50 Year Perspectives. London: Routledge. pp. 83. ISBN 978-0415316361.
  6. ^ a b c De Vries (1994), p. 255.
  7. ^ De Vries (1994), p. 256.
  8. ^ De Vries (1994), p. 257.
  9. ^ a b Hayami, Akira (2015). Japan's Industrious Revolution: Economic and Social Transformations in the Early Modern Period. Tokyo: Springer. pp. 95–97. ISBN 9784431551416.
  10. ^ Clark & Van Der Werf (1998), p. 839.
  11. ^ Clark & Van Der Werf (1998), p. 836.
  12. ^ Clark & Van Der Werf (1998), p. 837.
  13. ^ Clark & Van Der Werf (1998), p. 835.
  14. ^ a b Clark & Van Der Werf (1998), p. 834.
  15. ^ Allen, R. C.; Weisdorf, J. L. (2011). "Was there an 'industrious revolution' before the industrial revolution? An empirical exercise for England, c. 1300–1830". The Economic History Review. 64 (3): 715–729. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0289.2010.00566.x. ISSN 1468-0289.
  16. ^ Humphries, Jane; Weisdorf, Jacob (1 October 2019). "Unreal Wages? Real Income and Economic Growth in England, 1260–1850". The Economic Journal. 129 (623): 2867–2887. doi:10.1093/ej/uez017. ISSN 0013-0133.
  17. ^ a b Wiesner-Hanks (2006), p. 202.
  18. ^ Jardine (1996), p. 399.
  19. ^ Wiesner-Hanks (2006), p. 419.
  20. ^ Wiesner-Hanks (2006), p. 418.
  21. ^ a b Wiesner-Hanks (2006).
  22. ^ a b De Vries (1994).
  23. ^ Wiesner-Hanks (2006), p. 205.
  24. ^ De Vries (1994), p. 262.
  25. ^ De Vries (1994), pp. 261–62.
  26. ^ Ross (1993).
  27. ^ De Vries (1994), p. 252.
  28. ^ Jardine (1996).
  29. ^ Jones, Terry; Ereira, Alan (2005). "Peasant". Medieval Lives. London: BBC Press. p. 23. ISBN 978-0-563-48793-7.[unreliable source?]

Further reading[edit]

  • De Vries, Jan (2008). The industrious revolution: consumer behavior and the household economy, 1650 to the present. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-89502-6.
  • Allen, Robert C; Jacob Weisdorf (2011). "Was there an 'Industrious Revolution' before the industrial revolution? An empirical exercise for England, c. 1300-1830". Economic History Review 64 (3): 715-729. ISSN 1468-0289. JSTOR
  • Clark, Gregory; Van Der Werf, Ysbrand (1998). "Work in Progress? The Industrious Revolution". Journal of Economic History. 58 (3): 830–843. doi:10.1017/S0022050700021197. JSTOR 2566627.
  • De Vries, Jan (1994). "The Industrial Revolution and the Industrious Revolution". Journal of Economic History. 54 (2): 249–270. doi:10.1017/S0022050700014467. JSTOR 2123912.
  • Faroqhi, Suraiya N. (2006). "Guildsmen and Handicraft Producers". The Cambridge History of Turkey, Vol. 3. The Later Ottoman Empire 1603-1839. New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 379–424. ISBN 978-0-521-62095-6.
  • Griffin, Emma (2010). A Short History of the Industrial Revolution. Palgrave.
  • Jardine, Lisa (1996). "Conspicuous Consumption". Worldly Goods: A New History of the Renaissance. New York: Nan A. Talese. pp. 379–424. ISBN 978-0-385-47684-3.
  • Ross, Ellen (1993). Love and Toil. Motherhood in Outcast London, 1870-1918. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-503957-3.
  • Wiesner-Hanks, Merry E. (2006). Early Modern Europe, 1450–1789. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-80894-1.

External links[edit]