Working Paper BETA #2017-17

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Title : Industrialization as a Deskilling Process? Steam Engines and Human Capital in XIXth Century France

Author(s) : Claude Diebolt, Charlotte Le Chapelain, Audrey-Rose Menard

Abstract : Was technological progress conducive to human capital accumulation or was industrialization a deskilling process? Our paper investigates the effect of the French industrialization process on human capital accumulation throughout the nineteenth century. The novelty of the research is twofold: (i) we explore the deskilling hypothesis for the whole process of industrialization by implementing a panel analysis; (ii) we introduce a disaggregated human capital perspective to examine changes in skills demand at different stages of the process. Our analysis builds upon a new comprehensive dataset providing an exhaustive assessment of the diffusion of the steam technology in France at the county (Département) level over the 1839-1900 period. We use exogenous geographic variations as an instrument for the number of steam engines erected in each French department. We perform panel and cross-section regression analyses to compare the effect of technological change on basic vs. intermediate human capital accumulation. Our contribution reveals that French industrialization was not deskilling but that a shift in the type of the skills demanded occurred in the second half on the nineteenth century.

Key-words : Technological change, steam engines, industrialization, human capital, education.

JEL Classification : N33, 014, 033