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Economic Wellbeing During the Industrial Revolution Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: Jan 29th, 2021


This study provides a critique of an article by Stephen Nicholas, and Jacqueline Nicholas titled Male Literacy, “Deskilling”, and the Industrial revolution. The article was published in the summer of 1992 and appears in the Journal of Interdisciplinary studies. The piece seeks to investigate the economic wellbeing of individuals during the industrial revolution with a keen emphasis on the wage rate differentials and the standards of living (Nicholas 1).

The first part of this study provides a detailed summary of the technique used by the author in coming up with the conclusions to the article but the second part of the study shows the appropriateness of the study for use in the existing literature.

Article Review

The author’s aim was to establish whether real wages were the only determinant of the standards of living. With this goal in mind, the authors analyzed the development of industrial wages and prices during the period of industrial wages. Other parameters of determining the standards of living such as the health, morbidity and the nutritional status of the population were also analyzed comparatively to establish whether they also affected the standards of living (Nicholas 1). In so doing, the authors used the model of working class wage differentials where different groups were analyzes with regard to their different wage movements.

The data used to arrive at the final conclusion was majorly centered on wage rates among the working class population. However, commodity prices were also used complimentarily because it affected the standards of living among the working class population as well. The empirical context of this study can be depicted in the analysis of real wages among British workers. In the findings, it was established that with the persistent increase in wages; there was a clear cut difference of the winners and losers. In other words, there was a variation in the living standards of the working population. It was also established that there was a clear variation in geographic development and an equally varied wage rate differentials.

Contextual Analysis

There is an existing link between male literacy levels, the standards of education and the standards of living (State University 1). Evidently, high literacy levels are usually characteristic of high standards of living. The British industrial revolution best explains this fact through the surge in industrial activities. It created the working class population which was stratified along literacy lines thereby defining existent classes.

During the industrial revolution abundant resources were needed to spur growth and this was inclusive of human labor. In fact, with the advent of the industrial revolution, there were increased employment opportunities but much of the existent slots were discriminative on the level of literacy especially in operating certain machinery and in the production of specific goods (Mokyr 2).

Also during this period, the creation of social classes developed with certain parameters like morbidity, nutritional wellbeing, health status and educational achievement being some of the most common distinguishing parameters of social life. People who were perceived to fair better or enjoy higher standards of living were observed to fair better on the above social parameters while those that faired poorer on the same were equally poor in social life.

Specifically, the reasons for this appalling difference came out of the relationship with the factors of production (Shergold 1). Essentially, those people perceived to enjoy a better relationship with the factors of production faired better on literacy levels and in relative standards of living. Another major distinguishing factor, but still dependent on literacy levels, was the wage rate differentials.

Worker wage rates were an essential determinant of the type of life one could live (Jacqueline 2). The advent of the industrial revolution especially brought about an increase in wages because a lot was produced to feed the local population and enough surpluses was left for export. This greatly increased wage rates and in turn boosted the standards of living of most people engaged in the trade. However, as wage rates increased; so did the standards of living and the prices (Laqueur 3). High rates of production necessitated an increase in purchasing power and therefore the increase in wage rate was proportional to the increase in prices.

However, there emerged a ruling class that amassed a lot of wealth and such inflationary tendencies were little felt on their part. This is because they benefitted more from the working class population than inflation could erode.

This class of people was termed as the ruling class and they were primarily created by the development of the industrial revolution. They controlled almost entirely all the factors of production and even had enough purchasing power to buy human labor. Resources were therefore confined in the hands of these people and this is what dictated the level of growth in geographical terms because places where such type of people controlled huge resources, posted high economic growths but places that were deprived economically, posted low economic growths.

Nonetheless, it has been established that this top class of people in the society safeguarded their position in the pyramid of social identification through educational achievement. In this manner, most of the people had the power to supervise others or naturally make decision that bound lower class people because of their literacy levels (Mokyr 2).

The industrial revolution especially magnified this fact because it no longer relied on unskilled labor (which was easily attainable by everyone) but by skilled labor which was difficult to attain at the time. Skilled labor only had to be attained through becoming literate about a given topic. Those who took the cue scaled up the social ladder but those who hesitated in embracing change were pushed down the pyramid of success.

This fact marks the winners and losers in the industrial revolution because those who sought to improve their literacy levels, in tandem to the wave of development, benefited from the revolution but those who didn’t heed to this call, lost in the revolution. Those who were better equipped to take up the challenges of the industrial revolution were therefore better placed to take up existing jobs created by the industrial revolution and were also equally in a position to enjoy higher wage rates.


Male Literacy, wage differentials and price variations are all interrelated. They all define the emergence of social classes within most population groups. Nicholas makes this assertion through the analysis of the industrial revolution. He however notes that wage increases don’t necessarily translate to an increased standard of living because of the rising cost of living. However, it is clearly evident that not everybody faces such inflationary pressure because some people have been observed to amass a lot of property, such that, such inflationary pressures may seem a small cost for them.

Works Cited

Laqueur. Thomas. . 1974. Web.

Mokyr, Joel. The Economics of the Industrial Revolution. 1985. Web.

Jacqueline, Nicholas. . 1991. Web.

Nicholas, Stephen. . 1992. Web.

Shergold, Peter. . 1987. Web.

State University. Literacy: World literacy rates, Literacy and the Industrial Revolution. 1990. Web.

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