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Structural Change and Economic Growth in the British Economy before the Industrial Revolution, 1500–1800

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 August 2018

Patrick Wallis
Professor, LSE - Economic History, Houghton Street London WC2A 2AE, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. E-mail:
Justin Colson
Lecturer, University of Essex - Department of History, Colchester, Essex, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. E-mail:
David Chilosi
Assistant Professor, University of Groningen - Department of Economics, Econometrics and Finance, Nettelbosje 2, 9747 AE, Groningen, Netherlands. E-mail:


Structural transformation is a key indicator of economic development. We present the first time series of male labor sectoral shares for England and Wales before 1800, using a large sample of probate and apprenticeship data to produce national- and county-level estimates. England experienced a rapid decline in the share of workers in agriculture between the early seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth centuries, associated with rising agricultural and especially industrial productivity; Wales saw few changes. Our results show that England experienced unusually early structural change and highlight the mid-seventeenth century as a turning point.

© 2018 The Economic History Association. All rights reserved. 

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The Wellcome Trust funded part of the research underlying this paper (grant “The Medical World in Early Modern England, Wales and Ireland c.1500–1715”). Parts of the data were generously shared by Cliff Webb, Michael Scott, Mark Merry, and the Centre for Metropolitan History. The PST codes were generously shared by Leigh Shaw-Taylor and the CAMPOP group. We also made use of data provided by the Historic County Borders Project ( Maureen Wallis generously assisted us with classifying occupations. Liam Brundt, Steve Broadberry, Greg Clark, Giovanni Federico, Chris Minns, Patrick O’Brien, two anonymous referees, and audiences at Tsinghua University, Copenhagen University, and the Economic History Society offered incisive criticisms and suggestions that have much improved this paper.


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