Drivers of industrialisation: intersectoral evidence from the Low Countries in the nineteenth century

Robin Philips, Peter Földvári, Bas van Leeuwen

Research output: Working paper/discussion paperWorking paper/Discussion paperScientific


In this paper, we trace the causes of regional industrial development in the nineteenth century Low Countries by disentangling the complex relationship between industrialisation, technological progress and human capital formation. We use sectoral differences in the application of technology and human capital as the central elements to explain the rise in employment in the manufacturing sector during the nineteenth century, and our findings suggest a re-interpretation of the deskilling debate. To account for differences among manufacturing sectors, we use population and industrial census data, subdivided according to their present-day manufacturing sector equivalents of the International Standard Industrial Classification (ISIC). Instrumental variable regression analysis revealed that employment in the manufacturing sector was influenced by so-called upper- tail knowledge and not by average educational levels, providing empirical proof of a so-called deskilling industrialisation process. However, we find notable differences between manufacturing sectors. The textiles and clothing sectors show few agglomeration effects and limited use of steam-powered engines, and average education levels cannot adequately explain regional industrialisation. In contrast, the location of the fast- growing and innovative machinery-manufacturing sector was more influenced by technology and the availability of human capital, particularly upper-tail knowledge captured by secondary school attendance rates.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages25
Publication statusPublished - 22 Dec 2017


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