Unequal pay in Victorian Britain

by Chris Minns (LSE) and Emma Griffin (UEA)


Thames embankment, London, England. Available at Wikimedia Commons.

Women made a vital contribution to the labour force in Victorian Britain. Census evidence suggests that close to 40% of women in Britain were employed in the second half of the nineteenth century, which is roughly twice the rate found for the United States at the same time. This implies that the labour market earnings of women made a substantial contribution to the fortunes of many working-class households. 

But how did the industrial economy of mid-Victorian Britain treat women who sought work? It is well-known that women experienced large-scale occupational segregation with women excluded entirely from many professions and industries. Less well known, however, is how the pay of women evolved after 1850, particularly in relation to their male counterparts.  

In a new study, to be presented at the Economic History Society’s 2019 annual conference, we draw on the reports of wages and salaries paid between the 1850 and 1890 prepared by the Board of Trade. In total these sources contain over 9,000 wage quotations for male workers in industry, and well over 1,000 similar quotations for female workers. 

We use this information to compute the gender pay gap in Britain between 1850 and 1800, and to examine the structure of the disadvantages experienced by women at this time.  

Overall, we find that between 1850 and 1890, women in British industry had earnings a little more that 40% of male earnings in industry. The gender pay gap closes by only a few percentage points over the period we study, and it would appear that it is at least as large in the second half of the nineteenth century as what others have found for the first part of the Industrial Revolution between 1780 and 1850. 

While part of the explanation for the large pay gap is the exclusion of women from the best paid industries and trades, our preliminary work suggests that differences in the composition of employment between men and women can only account for a small fraction of the gender gap. 

When comparing matched wage quotations for men and women in the same location, industry, occupation and year, the gender pay gap is only modestly smaller, at 51%. Consistent with this finding, we do not find evidence of substantial gender pay gap differences between regions or industries that were major employers of women. 

What are the main implications of these findings? 

First, it appears that the dynamics of gender pay in late nineteenth century Britain were strikingly different than in the United States. The gender pay gap in UK industry at the end of the nineteenth century was about 15 percentage points larger than in American manufacturing, which saw a more noticeable narrowing over the century. These transatlantic differences in the relative price of women’s labour may have implications for the patterns of industrial development seen in Britain versus the United States. 

Second, the fairly uniform gender pay gap across British industry, despite notable differences in skill and strength requirements between occupations speaks to a pattern of broad-based labour market segmentation that worked to suppress women’s wages well before the spread of internal labour markets that and long-term contracts thought to formalise different pay structures for men and women.

The Greek public debt restructuring of 2018 through the lens of history

by Olga Christodoulaki


The Residence of the Bank of Greece at the corner of the Streets Ionos Dragoumi and Tsimiski, Thessaloniki. Available at Wikimedia Commons.

In June 2018, relief was granted to Greece for the official sovereign debt by its Eurozone counterparts. But in spite of this recent agreement and a reduction by more than 50% in the face value of the debt held privately in March 2012, the sustainability of Greek public debt is still questioned and the uncertainty associated with this might easily impair economic growth.

This is not the first episode of Greek public debt restructuring, as I will discuss in research to be presented at the Economic History Society’s 2019 annual conference. In 1898, five years after a Greek government default, a debt compromise was achieved, providing for the restructuring of both internal and external sovereign debt. The cornerstone of this readjustment plan was the creation of a viable long-term plan for the servicing of public debt, which had reached nearly 230% of GDP by then.

Interest rate payments to bondholders of Greek external loans issued before the 1893 default were linked to specific public revenue streams earmarked exclusively for the service of these loans. These revenues assigned for the repayment of public debt were administered by the International Financial Commission and represented, in 1903 for example, approximately 46% of the total revenue of the Greek government.

Consequently, as Figure 1 shows, the yield paid to bondholders fluctuated from year to year within a band depending on the volume of those revenues; its floor being the minimum rate defined by the debt restructuring agreement and its ceiling the original coupon rate of the loan.

In addition, special attention was paid during the preparation of this debt readjustment plan to protect and indeed strengthen the National Bank, the central bank in Greece at the time. Domestic public debt denominated both in gold and drachmae and mainly held by the National Bank, was also restructured so as to strengthen its financial position.


My study argues that the provisions of the debt readjustment plan of 1898 – which it should be stressed have been completely ignored by research until now – should be taken into account in order to comprehend fully the improvement in the creditworthiness of the Greek government and consequently the terms of borrowing before the outbreak of the First World War.

The public debt readjustment arrangement of 1898 marked the beginning of a period of high capital inflows to the country including Greek diaspora capital and remittances. Moreover, it facilitated a carefully orchestrated return of the Greek government to the private markets in 1902. It is worth noting, however, that Greece did not avoid a further default in the early 1930s when the world economy collapsed.

The recent public debt relief granted to Greece by its Eurozone counterparts echoes the late nineteenth century restructuring of public debt agreement but lacks the credibility that the latter engendered. This time, the long-term sustainability of public debt depends on the commitment of the Greek government to achieve constant primary surpluses, every year, beginning from 2018 for two generations and also on privatisation proceeds.

This is a commitment that has been received with caution since it is neither a serious policy goal nor particularly realistic if history is anything to go by.

Sources of market disintegration in eighteenth century China

by Markus Eberhardt (School of Economics, University of Nottingham)


Altar Frontal (China (for European market)), 18th century. Available at Wikimedia Commons.

One of the seminal questions in world and Chinese economic history is why China, in contrast to Western Europe, failed to industrialise during the nineteenth century, leading to differential development paths commonly referred to as the Great Divergence.

Social and economic historians have tried to tackle this issue by identifying potential sufficient conditions for industrialisation. One candidate condition has been the degree of national or sub-national market integration within Asia and Western Europe on the eve of industrialisation. A long-held view maintained that Western Europe was characterised by integrated markets, which had taken root because of state-supported property rights institutions. China, in contrast, despite her unified political system, was said to have failed in creating a unified national market.

This hypothesis of differential levels of market integration has been seriously challenged more recently, most notably in the work of Kenneth Pomeranz (2000), who concluded that factor and product markets in late eighteenth century Western Europe were ‘probably further from perfect competition… than those in most of China.’

Shiue and Keller (2007) carried out a formal cross-continental comparison of rice markets in Southern China during 1742-95 with wheat markets in Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, providing the first econometric evidence for Pomeranz’s conjecture of equivalent goods market integration in both regions.

Much of the subsequent research has adopted the conclusion that ‘in the late eighteenth century… long-distance [grain] trade in China operated more efficiently than in [continental] Europe’ (von Glahn, 2016).

In related work (Bernhofen et al, 2016) we use a number of alternative empirical methods (including the cointegration analysis employed by Shiue and Keller, 2007) along with higher frequency grain price data for China and Western Europe to provide consistent evidence for a substantial decline in Chinese market integration over time: by 1800, China’s grain markets were fragmented, including in the economically most advanced regions (Jiangnan).

Our empirical implementations account for general equilibrium effects widely acknowledged to have distorted earlier investigations of market integration using price data.

In our new study, to be to be presented at the Economic History Society’s 2019 annual conference, I and my co-authors (Daniel Bernhofen, Jianan Li and Stephen Morgan) bring together arguments for such an early decline in Qing grain market integration from the rich economic and social history literatures.

We use our estimates for market integration to test empirically one prominent factor: we investigate the role played by the unprecedented population growth and internal migration during the eighteenth century and its economic, social, political and environmental implications.

In studies of early modern Europe, population growth was found to go hand in hand with market expansion and increased integration. In China, population growth and its uneven regional distribution not merely limited the surplus grain available for trade, but exerted severe pressure on an inherently instable water control system pitting farming against flood prevention and the waterway transportation of goods, creating increasingly insurmountable challenges for water engineering.

In combination with rigid fiscal rules, population growth constrained the ability of the Qing state to govern this vast empire effectively. Local officials reacted to rising population pressure with ‘grain protectionism’, leading to temporary political borders, which further hampered the functioning of the market.

The narrative we develop is not that of a standard ‘Malthusian trap’, where an acceleration in pre-modern agricultural growth is followed by population growth that dilutes per capita resources and thus keeps the economy in a ‘low level equilibrium trap’. Instead, we describe an escalating ‘span of control’ problem, increasing the pressure on a small bureaucracy in the periphery as well as the core of the empire, caused by a rigid and underfunded state apparatus.


Figure: Population density growth and internal migration

Conf China Map



We plot the annualised population density growth rates (in percent) between 1776 and 1820 for 211 prefectures. Black solid lines indicate provincial borders. The dashed line marks the early eighteenth century ‘frontier’ between developed and developing areas of Qing China (Myers and Wang, 2002). Arrows indicate major internal migration flows (stylised representation) during the eighteenth century. The two Northern migration strands actually extend beyond Qing China proper into Xinjiang and Manchuria.



Population density data are taken from Cao (2000), information on eighteenth century migration flows from Eliott (2009: 147), Entenmann (1980: 41f), Ho (1959: 139ff), Lee and Feng (1999: 118), Mann-Jones and Kuhn (1978: 109f, 132), Myers and Wang (2002: Map 9), shapefiles from CHGIS version 6 (2016).

Income inequality in times of war and revolution: the city of Moscow in 1916

by Elizaveta Blagodeteleva (National Research University Higher School of Economics)

This research will be presented during the EHS Annual Conference in Belfast, April 5th – 7th 2019. Conference registration can be found on the EHS website.


Voznesenskaya Square, 1900s. Available at Wikimedia Commons.

In autumn of 1916, a big scandal roiled the Moscow public: local landlords petitioned the municipal government for the permission to raise rents, which was prohibited by the military administration a year before amid the escalating refugee crisis. Newspapers fumed at the selfishness of the rich, who not only avoided serving their country at the battlefield but exploited wartime hardships to get even richer. Health inspectors, lessees and workers of the largest industrial plants publicly raised their objections to the proposal.

Although the concerted effort of the city landlords to increase revenue eventually failed, the public outrage persisted. The occasional evidence of huge war profits and rumours about the luxurious life of industrialists and rentiers stoked anger among the urbanites, who struggled to make ends meet under the increasing pressure of galloping inflation and food shortages. The rent scandal highlighted the growing animosity towards the rich that the Bolsheviks would later channel into fully-fledged class warfare.

In 1916, Moscow residents sincerely believed that the gap between the wealthy and the rest of the population was enormous and it kept widening at an alarming pace. But did their beliefs match reality? In other words, how unequal was urban society in Russia in the last year of the old regime? To answer this question, a student of social and economic inequality would usually refer to income tax records. Unfortunately, there are very few of them in case of imperial Russia.

The Russian authorities had been extremely wary of income taxation up until the beginning of the Great War, when the national political mobilisation elevated the issue of the personal responsibility of each and every subject of the tsar. As a result, the state legislature passed an income tax in the spring of 1916. Its political objectives overwhelmed fiscal practicalities as lawmakers wanted it to bring the state closer to the ‘pockets’ and ‘hearts’ of the people. The progressivity of the new tax was supposed to ensure the levelling of the great fortunes and make the body politic more cohesive.

Since tax collection began in March 1917 and continued through the period of an intense power struggle and regime change, surviving records are patchy. Neither the tsar’s local treasures nor early Soviet fiscal authorities left comprehensive accounts of the sums collected in 1917. Nevertheless, Moscow archives have preserved some tax rolls that document the personal incomes for the year 1916, reported by taxpayers and then ascertained by tax collectors in the first half of 1917.

The records allow a tentative reconstruction of the level of income inequality in the city. Given that the adult population of Moscow amounted to 1.1 million in the spring of 1917, the estimates show that the wealthiest 1% and 5% must have received and then reported about 45.9% and 58.8% of their total income. With the Gini coefficient standing at 0.75, those shares display an extremely high level of income inequality among the city residents in 1916. A huge gap between the rich and the others not only felt real but was real.

The economic assimilation of Irish famine migrants to the United States

by William Collins and Ariell Zimran (Vanderbilt University)

This research will be presented during the EHS Annual Conference in Belfast, April 5th – 7th 2019. Conference registration can be found on the EHS website.


Engraving of Emigrants leaving Ireland, 1868. Available at Wikimedia Commons.

Restrictive immigration policy is often justified by claims that immigrants and refugees are slow to assimilate culturally and economically in the receiving country. Our new research, to be presented at the Economic History Society’s 2019 annual conference, shows that the largest wave of refugees to ever arrive in the United States experienced rapid economic assimilation, closing much of the gap in occupational status relative to native-born Americans in a single generation.

These refugees were victims of the Great Irish Famine, which killed an estimated one million Irish between 1846 and 1850 and drove another million to flee abroad, mostly to the United States. Their poverty and predominantly Catholic religion set them apart from the typical American of the day, and led many politicians and commentators to argue that the Irish could and would not assimilate and thus were dangerous to American democracy and the American economy.

Notwithstanding these claims, data limitations have masked how the Irish immigrants’ labour market outcomes evolved after their arrival. To study these patterns, we use data from the US censuses of 1850 and 1880.

We begin by identifying Irish men in 1850 and using information on the birthplaces and ages of their children to determine whether they had arrived in the United States during the famine or before. We then locate their sons in the 1880 census, enabling the comparison of the sons’ adult occupations with those of their fathers. Similar links are constructed for the sons of native-born Americans.

The new data enable the documentation of three facts. First, in 1850, the Irish famine-era migrants had considerably lower levels of human capital, as measured by their literacy, than earlier Irish arrivals and native-born Americans. They were also 57% more likely than natives to hold an unskilled occupation.

The poor conditions faced by the famine Irish migrants thus did not bode well for the success of the next generation. Indeed, a simple comparison of the sons of the famine-era Irish to the sons of US natives reveals the second fact: as late as 1880, the sons of the famine Irish still fared worse than the sons of natives. These first two facts would seem, at first glance, to support claims of failure to assimilate (that is, ‘catch up’ to natives) in labour markets.

But a more detailed analysis reveals that the gap had shrunk considerably over the generation. In 1880, the sons of famine-era Irish were only 24% more likely than the sons of natives to hold an unskilled occupation. Thus, in a single generation, they closed much of the gap in status faced by their fathers.

Moreover, when the sons of the famine Irish were compared only to the sons of natives whose households were similar in 1850, only an 8% gap between the two groups remained. Thus, despite experiencing poverty, a nativist backlash against migrants, especially Catholics, and in some cases the trauma of the famine itself, the largest wave of refugee immigrants ever to arrive in the United States experienced almost the same intergenerational mobility as natives.

It is difficult to draw conclusions from these results to modern waves of refugees seeking sanctuary in Europe and the United States. The American and European economies have changed radically over the intervening centuries, and the open border policy of the United States – responsible for saving untold lives during the Irish famine – has long been closed.

But the parallels in rhetoric faced by modern and historic refugees suggests that the results of our new research can provide a useful lens through which to view modern debates.

The comfortable, the rich and the super-rich: what really happened to top British incomes during the first half of the twentieth century?

by Peter Scott and James T Walker (Henley Business School, University of Reading)

This research will be presented during the EHS Annual Conference in Belfast, April 5th – 7th 2019. Conference registration can be found on the EHS website.



Across road junction at Clapham Common, London, England. Available at Wikimedia Commons.

Long-run analysis of British income inequality has been severely hampered by poor historical income distribution data relative to other western countries. Until 1937, there were no official peacetime income distribution estimates for Britain, despite considerable contemporary interest in how much of the national income was taken by the rich.

In research to be presented at the Economic History Society’s 2019 annual conference, we address this question, focusing on changes in the incomes of the top 0.001-5% of the income distribution. This group is important for two reasons. First, because top incomes accounted for a substantial slice of total personal incomes, with the top 1% and top 5% taking around 30% and 45% of total income in 1911, according to our estimates.

Second, income redistribution in western countries is typically dominated by changes in the shares of the top 5% and, especially, within the top percentile. Thus examining higher incomes is crucial to explaining the apparent paradox between a relatively stagnant income distribution among the bulk of the British population and the generally assumed trend towards a more equal pre-tax income distribution.

Using a newly rediscovered Inland Revenue survey of personal incomes for taxpayers in 1911, we show that Britain had particularly high-income inequality compared with other Western countries. Top British income shares fell considerably over the following decades, though British incomes remained more unequal than in the United States or France in 1949.

Inequality reduction was driven principally by a collapse in unearned incomes, reflecting economic shocks and government policy responses. Over the period from 1911 to 1949, there was a general downward trend in rent, dividend and interest income, with particularly sharp falls during the two world wars and the recessions of 1920-21 and 1929-32.

War-time inflation eroded the real income received from fixed interest securities; new London Stock Exchange issues of overseas securities were restricted by the Treasury (to protect Britain’s foreign exchange position), reducing rentiers’ ability to invest their income overseas; and the agricultural depression lowered real (inflation-adjusted) land rents.

These trends reflected a progressive collapse of the globalised world economy from 1914 to 1950, which both reduced the incomes of the rich and redistributed income to the bottom 95% of the income spectrum.

For example, rent control (introduced in 1915 and continuing throughout the period of our study), depressed the incomes of landlords, but substantially reduced the real cost of a major household expenditure burden, in a country where around 90% of households were private tenants. Rent control also led to extensive house sales by landlords, mainly to sitting tenants, at prices reflecting their low, controlled, rents.

Meanwhile the scarcity of low-risk, high yielding assets during the interwar years led to substantial deposits in building societies by high-income individuals, funding the house-building boom of the 1930s. Restrictions on overseas new issues also led the City of London to become increasingly involved in British industrial finance – expanding industrial growth and employment.

Conversely, the policy liberalisations of the 1980s that heralded the start of the new globalisation (and the resumption of growing income inequality in western nations) have made it far easier for the rich to offshore their assets, or themselves, either in search of better investments opportunities or jurisdictions more suited to protecting their wealth. This has produced a strong international trend towards rising income inequality, with Britain returning to its position as one of the most unequal western nations.

The flexibility of the gold standard – any lessons for the Eurozone?

by Guillaume Bazot (University Paris 8), Eric Monnet (Banque de France, Paris School of Economics & CEPR) and Matthias Morys (University of York)

This research will be presented during the EHS Annual Conference in Belfast, April 5th – 7th 2019. Conference registration can be found on the EHS website.


Cover image of Puck Magazine, v. 47, no. 1201 (1900 March 14). Available at Wikimedia Commons.

A great deal of research has drawn on the classical gold standard (1870s-1914) – an earlier and highly successful system of fixed exchange rates – to provide guidance for Europe’s monetary union (EMU). Such historical inspiration initially informed the design of the euro and then, since the outbreak of the Eurozone crisis in 2010, how to fix the flaws of the common currency.

Researchers have offered very different lessons from the past, yet they all share one key feature: the gold standard as a highly rigid system, robbing countries of their monetary policy and leaving them potentially unable to respond to major shocks.

Our research, to be presented at the Economic History Society’s 2019 annual conference, takes the opposite perspective: the extraordinary stability of the gold standard stems from the fact that it was precisely not a rigid framework. Central banks retained far more room for manoeuvre than is conventionally acknowledged, and they knew how to use this policy space for their own purposes.

Drawing on a unique high-frequency data set for all 21 central banks of the gold standard period (arduously collected by Bank of France statisticians at the time but then shelved in the bank’s archives, where we found them), we estimate how other central banks reacted when ‘the conductor of the international orchestra’ (as Keynes named the Bank of England) raised interest rates.

Our results show that there was no ‘rule of the game’ that countries automatically followed after a rate rise. Instead, we document that central banks followed a variety of – economically well-defined and econometrically clearly identifiable – strategies with the aim of mitigating the impact of a foreign central bank decision on the domestic economy.

Intriguingly, two important strategies pursued at the time – sterilisation and capital controls – have clear parallels with key policies implemented in the Eurozone since 2010.

This is especially the case with the (highly) asymmetric distribution of loans for the ‘long-term refinancing operations’ (LTROs) across countries (in order to improve the convergence of credit conditions), macroprudential policies (to tame asymmetric credit booms), the use of ‘emergency liquidity assistance’ (ELA) by national central banks and the use of capital controls as a last resort in Cyprus and Greece.

It is often said that the euro started out as a modern-day gold standard (clear rules, common monetary policy, separate fiscal policies) but has developed into something else in recent years. By contrast, our research shows that the gold standard always possessed certain features of flexibility – characteristics that the euro area had to introduce in response to the Eurozone crisis. In its move away from one-size-fits-all monetary policy, today’s EMU arguably resembles the classical gold standard more than it did before 2010.

Urbanisation and regional GDP growth in Europe over the twentieth century

by Kerstin Enflo (Lund University), Anna Missiaia (Lund University) and Joan Rosés (LSE)

This research will be presented during the EHS Annual Conference in Belfast, April 5th – 7th 2019. Conference registration can be found on the EHS website.



‘Palace of the People’ in Amsterdam. Photo dates back to about 1890. Available at Wikimedia Commons.

Fast urbanisation is a phenomenon often associated with the image of African or Asian mega-cities, but migrations from rural to urban areas are also a European phenomenon (see the growth experienced by large capitals such as London and Paris, but also smaller ones such as Stockholm and Copenhagen). And according to United Nations forecasts, the urbanisation trend will continue, with an estimated 2.5 billion people added to the world’s urban population by 2050.

The first question that comes to mind is whether urbanisation triggers economic growth, and therefore should be favoured by policy-makers, as suggested by eminent scholars such as Ed Glaeser (The Triumph of the City: How Our Best Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier, 2011) or Richard Florida (The Rise of the Creative Class, 2002).

Although this relationship is overall positive, the paradigm has been challenged with respect to African mega-cities: their urbanisation rate takes off in periods of growth but it does not immediately decrease in periods of recession. As cities continue to grow in size, but fail to grow in GDP per capita, their inhabitants experience falling income levels, ultimately leading to falling living standards (Fay and Opal, 2000).

If we look at Europe, urbanisation without growth does not appear to be an issue when countries are the units of analysis. But the national dimension could be concealed by the success stories of the large capitals, with less clear success stories for middle-sized declining cities. Net of the big successful capitals, many cities that thrived during the post-war period are now struggling, with clear economic, social and political consequences.

Our work, to be presented at the Economic History Society’s 2019 annual conference, contributes to the debate by looking at this relationship for the first time at the regional, rather than national level, using urbanisation rates and GDP per capita in EU regions in the twentieth century. The regional dimension makes it possible to disentangle the effects of urbanisation from the effects of being the capital’s region.

Our main findings are that the relationship between urbanisation and growth is positive and significant until the middle of the twentieth century, while it is not significant in recent years. We therefore observe a progressive decoupling of regional urbanisation and economic growth. The effect on growth of the presence of the capital in the region is very large: between 60% and 70% of that of urbanisation until the mid-twentieth century.

When looking at macro areas, both Southern Europe and Northern Europe show no statistically significant relationship between urbanisation and economic growth, suggesting that regions containing urban areas without the status of capital do not necessarily grow more than regions without such urban areas.

This is consistent with the idea of a ‘winner-take-all urbanism’ presented by Florida (The New Urban Crisis, 2017) in which there is a growing divide between the winner cities (London, New York, Paris, San Francisco) and the rest.

In the winner cities, the middle class, the service class and the working class are priced out by highly paid creative workers. In the rest of the cities, where creative workers are not based, the middle class declines without being replaced by the new rich.

Our results are relevant for policy-makers as they challenge the view that urbanisation per se is a strong channel for economic growth regardless of the period and geographical area considered.

The age of entrepreneurship: new insights into female business proprietors in Victorian Britain

by Carry van Lieshout (University of Cambridge, The Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure)

This research will be presented during the EHS Annual Conference in Belfast, April 5th – 7th 2019. Conference registration can be found on the EHS website.


Snow Hill, Holburn, London 19th century. Available on Wikimedia Commons.










Close to 30% of businesses in Victorian Britain were owned by women, according to our research, which I will be presenting at the Economic History Society’s 2019 annual conference.

Our analysis of UK census data between 1851 and 1911 shows that the population of female business proprietors was much larger than hitherto estimated, and challenges popular notions of what a Victorian entrepreneur looked like. The research is based on the new British Business Census of entrepreneurs, created at the University of Cambridge as part of the project Drivers of Entrepreneurship under Professor Robert Bennett.

This database contains an extraction and reconstruction of the whole business population of England, Wales and Scotland, and will be made available through the UK Data Archive in 2019. A forthcoming book by the project team – The Age of Entrepreneurship – shows how the Victorian period was a golden age for smaller and medium-sized business.

Women formed a sizable part of this business population, owning 27-30% of all businesses between 1851 and 1911. This is considerably higher than current figures: statistics from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy shows that 21% of businesses were female-led in 2017.

While nowadays the sectors with the highest proportions of female involvement include education and the health services, where women constitute 50% of proprietors, in Victorian Britain the most female-dominated sectors were clothing manufacturing and personal services.

In 2017, manufacturing was one of the lowest sectors for female business participation at 12%, the same proportion as it was in 1901. While many Victorian manufacturing businesses ran by women were related to the textile industry, there were also many women running more traditionally masculine trades, such as Eliza Tinsley, who in 1871 owned a nail and chain manufacturing firm in Dudley, Staffordshire, employing 4,000 people.

‘Co-preneurship’ and ‘mumpreneurs’ played a similarly important role in Victorian Britain as they do today. While many women dropped out of the formal labour force after marriage and childbirth, for those who remained economically active entrepreneurship was an attractive option.

While roughly similar proportions of economically active single men and women ran their own businesses, after marriage, women were more likely than men to be business proprietors. In some cases, married women ran a business in partnership with their spouse, a common dynamic for grocers, for example. But in the majority of married female entrepreneurs’ households, the wife ran a business while her husband was a wage labourer.

Having young children increased the likelihood of running a business as well: mothers’ entrepreneurship rates increased with the arrival of one child and continued to increase the more children under 5 years old were added to a household.

The underlying drivers of entrepreneurship in such cases were a combination of social and legal restrictions on female wage labour participation, the increased flexibility in terms of working hours, and being able to work from home (which over 70% of female business owners, but only 7% of workers was able to do). Neither marriage nor motherhood, therefore, prohibited women’s entrepreneurial prowess.

People, Places and Business Cultures: Essays in Honour of Francesca Carnevali

review by Jim Tomlinson (University of Glasgow)

book edited by Paolo Di Martino, Andrew Popp and Peter Scott.

People, Places and Business Cultures: Essays in Honour of Francesca Carnevali’ is published by Boydell and Brewer. SAVE  25% when you order direct from the publisher – offer ends on the 2nd April 2019. See below for details.




Festschriften are usually produced at or around retirement, and to celebrate long academic careers. This collection, tragically, marks the end of a foreshortened career, that of Francesca Carnevali, who died in 2013 at the age of 48.

The chapters of the book have all been written by historian colleagues and friends of Francesca. The authors come from a diverse set of academic backgrounds, including the prominent medievalist Chris Wickham and the social and cultural historian Matthew Hilton. But most of the contributors come, as did Francesca, from the broadly-defined subject of business history.

Francesca’s own work provided a broad and variegated set of concerns and approaches that enables the contributors to link her work to their own diverse areas of expertise. Thus, for example, Leslie Hannah (who supervised Francesca’s PhD, and co-authored an article on banking with her), provides a new approach to the old question of the comparative performance of British banking before 1914. He stresses the paradox (at least for those who think competition is always the key to efficiency), that by any standards Britain at that time had a highly competitive banking system, yet suffered a growth ‘climacteric’. More broadly, Hannah, like Francesca herself, adheres to a broadly declinist view of British economic history, whilst clearly identifying the unsatisfactory nature of many declinist stories.

Francesca’s own work on banking contrasted Italy and Britain, and the financing of Italian small business is the concern of Alberto Rinaldi and Anna Spadavecchia’s chapter. The conclusion of this analysis emphasizes the embeddedness of financial institutions in legal, social and political conditions as well as economic circumstances, a conclusion that links to Francesca’s broadening concerns after her early work on banking. Key to this broadening was an examination of social capital and trust, as key, if problematic, concepts for understanding business behaviour.

This behaviour is examined in a variety of contexts in this book, ranging from Andrew Popp’s study of Liverpool cotton brokers and their ‘public staging of business life’ to Lucy Newton’s study(jointly authored with Francesca) of making and selling pianos in Victorian and Edwardian England. This concern with consumer goods is linked by Peter Scott and James Walker to an innovative study of how mass consumption and mass marketing, to some degree at least, blurred class demarcations on interwar Britain.

These empirical studies are complemented by more conceptually focussed chapter, by Chris Wickham on the genealogy of ‘micro-history’, by Kenneth Lipartito on the concept of social capital and its limits, and by Andrea Colli on the problems of doing comparative European history.  Last, but very far from least, there is a characteristically wide-ranging and insightful chapter by Mathew Hilton on the problems of writing the economic and social history of twentieth-century Britain in the light of the recent ‘turns’ in how that history is being written.

The diversity of this book’s contents is a strength not a weakness. Business historians of almost any bent will find something interesting and important to engage with. The breadth of analytical and empirical concerns, allied with the close attention to important conceptual puzzles, makes this book a fitting reflection of, and tribute to, Francesca’s productive and well-lived life.


SAVE 25% when you order direct from the publisher using the offer code BB500 online hereOffer ends 2nd April 2019. Discount applies to print and eBook editions. Alternatively call Boydell’s distributor, Wiley, on 01243 843 291, and quote the same code. Any queries please email marketing@boydell.co.uk


To contact Jim Tomlinson: jim.tomlinson@glasgow.ac.uk


Note: this review was originally published on-line in Business History, 2019.  It is reproduced by kind permission of  Lee-Ann Anderson (Permissions and Licensing, Taylor and Francis).