skip to primary navigation skip to content

Occupational structure

Occupational structure

At the core of the Occupational Structure of Britain project is the attempt to reconstruct, in quantitative terms, the male and female occupational structure of the economy of Britain from the late medieval period down to the outbreak of the First World War. From 1851 both male and female occupations are recorded relatively satisfactorily in the decennial population censuses. Before that date male occupations are recorded of abundance in a wide variety of source material. Integrated, long-run data series have been constructed using the following set of sources (click links for more information on each):

The occupational information from these sources has been uniformly coded in the PST system, specifically developed for this project. They have also been linked to the Group's GIS, making it possible to map the data and to subject them to spatial analyses. The census data from 1851 onwards and the pre-census sources of male occupational data provide data at the level of individual parishes or for other very small geographical units. Where such high spatial resolution data are available spatially comprehensively, it is possible to map occupational structures over the whole country. Thus far we are able to do this from c.1817 to 1911 (and indeed to 2011) and for large swathes of the country before c.1817. Before the 1851 census, for males, but not females we have a partial mapping of the country at earlier dates.

These long-run occupational data series are at the basis of many of the project's main results and publications. But they have much wider applications than 'purely' as an information source on historical occupational structure and have, thereby, led to the birth of a number of intimately related sub-projects which, in turn, help us complete our understanding of occupational developments:

  • Population geography: geographically and temporally detailed data on local populations help us pinpoint the spatial distribution of the labour force and allow us to re-weight the occupational data better
  • Towns and urbanisation: being able to reliably distinguish and delineate town boundaries and populations allows us to better understand differences between urban and rural occupational structures
  • Transport: detailed insights into the development of Britain's transport network over time greatly improves our understanding how infrastructural change underpinned/enabled local occupational structures and population geography.
  • International and comparative work: comparing Britain's occupational structure with that of other countries allows us to appreciate whether and, if so, in what ways Britain's economic development was 'special'.
  • Work and gender: the more limited recording of women's occupations in the surviving source material and the more problematic relationship between 'occupation' and 'work' for women means that we have to use different source material. These will not generate such spatially granular data (datasets for every parish) as can be created from male-only data, but will greatly improve our overall picture of work and occupational structure.