Population, Migration and Labour Supply: Great Britain 1871 – 2011
A country’s most important asset is its people. This paper outlines the development of Britain’s human resources since the middle of the 19th century. It focuses on four key elements. The first is the demographic transition – the processes through which birth rates and death rates fell, leading to a slowdown in population growth. The second is the geographical reallocation of population through migration. This includes emigration and immigration as well as migration within Britain. The third issue is labour supply: the proportion of the population participating in the labour market and the amount and type of labour supplied. Related to this, the last part of the chapter charts the growth in education and skills of the population and the labour force.
Review by Anna Missiaia
This work by Tim Hatton was distributed by NEP-HIS on 2012-07-29 and deals with the evolution of population, labour force and human capital in Britain over the last 140 years. It is part of the upcoming third edition of the Cambridge Economic History of Modern Britain edited by Roderick Floud, Paul Johnson and Jane Humphries. The author of this paper is one of the most known scholars when it comes to British labour history. The paper neatly illustrates the main trends in the evolution of human capital in Britain in the long run.
The first trend is the one of population. British population tripled over this period, predominately due to the increase in the number of the over 60 population. The reduction in deaths was due to the reduction in infectious diseases. This change in the age structure is typical of demographic transitions experienced by industrializing countries. Nowadays, the main cause of death is chronic conditions that are also responsible of the increased number of years spent in disability. As for the fertility transition, Hatton claims that it was not caused by the decrease in infant mortality (and therefore the need to have fewer children in order to ensure support in old age). On the contrary, Hatton claims that a shift in preferences for smaller and better off family took place and was enabled by more awareness of birth control.
The second trend is the shift of Britain from an emigration to an immigration country. Emigration was in general connected to fluctuations in the business cycle abroad and the author estimates that the without emigration, real wages would have been about 12% lower. The reversal took place in the 1980s due to a mix of changes in institutional factors and economic incentives. Countries such as the US, Canada and Australia abolished the preference for British migrants and Britain facilitated the migration of Commonwealth citizens.
As for the condition of the labour force, the participation of women increased and the one of people over 65 decreased. There are two hypotheses on why women stayed out of the labour market until the 1930s: economic choice or social norms hostile to women labour. In the first case the decrease in the number of children to take care of should have led to an increase in participation, which did not occur for a long time after the beginning of the fertility transition. According to Hatton, women empowerment led to the overcoming of social norms. In general, the number of hours worked decreased from 60 per week to 36 from the 1980s on. This was possible because of the increase in real wages that allowed workers to work fewer hours.
Finally, education became universal through the expansion of public schooling and higher education (especially in professional subjects). For women, the attainment of a higher level of education was functional to the larger participation in the labour force. In conclusion, this paper gives an excellent overview on different topics in British labour history. It connects the different dimensions (population, labour force, migration, schooling) within one framework and proposes the author’s view on several debated issues.