It’s a standard tenet of Marxism that working hours increased at the time of the Industrial Revolution. This leads all sorts of moderns to talk about how the happy peasantry was thrown off the land and herded into factories and so on.
If working hours reduced at the time of the Industrial Revolution then of course we’ve room for a rather different story. People flooded into the factories because the lifestyle was better than that notsohappy peasantry.
The starting point to get to the correct answer is to note two things. Firstly, the economic unit among human beings is not the individual, it is the household. Second, households have two forms of work to be performed, inside the household for no pay from Da Man and outside the household for pay from The Man.
So, to work out whether working hours increased at the time of the Industrial Revolution we need to look at both types of working hours, domestic and market, and for the household as a whole.
We can see that they have decreased in modern times, that’s easy. The story of the last century is that both men and women have more leisure now than they did in 1920. Female market working hours have risen, make market, fallen. Both male and female household hours have fallen, female so much as to more than make up for the rise in market. This is washing machines, microwaves, stoves that don;t need blacking, steam irons, takeaway food and so on and on.
But what happened at the time of the Industrial Revolution? Perhaps there was an increase in hours which has then declined more recently?
Well, actually, no, not so much:
RAJAGOPALAN: You talk about the amount of yarn required for very simple items that every single one of us has in our closet. For a pair of jeans, you need six miles or 10 kilometers of yarn. In an Indian charkha, that takes about 13 days. If you go back to the Bronze Age, that takes 37 days to make.
Now, we all own multiple pairs of jeans. One doesn’t think about this at all. One doesn’t think about throwing away a pair of jeans if they’re ripped unintentionally, if you don’t want ripped jeans. We have this abundance of fabric, which I realize is an incredibly new thing in human history. For most of human history, this kind of abundance in fabric has simply not existed.
POSTREL: That 100 hours or 13 days—and the Indian charkha is the fastest pre–Industrial Revolution spinning, especially for cotton. That’s just for the spinning. That doesn’t include cleaning the fiber, preparing it for spinning. It doesn’t include the weaving, dyeing, any kind of finishing.
The spinning of yarn. It was the major household labour of women pre- the Industrial Revolution. Given those numbers that’s hour after hour after weeks of interminable labour. What was that Industrial Revolution in? Textiles of course. More than that, it was spinning that was the start of it all.
The first thing to be mechanised was that female household labour. This freed up more labour hours than anything else that happened at the time. True, it also meant that the average person could have a spare set of skivvies – or as it’s more politely put, stockings for the mill girls.
Working hours declined at the Industrial Revolution. This the concept that people had to be driven into the capitalist factories rather fails……