The Economic History Review

Nominal wage patterns, monopsony, and labour market power in early modern England

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Authors: Meredith M. Paker, Judy Z. Stephenson, Patrick Wallis
Published online: April 14, 2024DOI: 10.1111/ehr.13346

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Records of long-eighteenth-century English wage rates exhibit almost absolute nominal rigidity over many decades, alongside significant dispersion between the wages paid by different organizations for the same type of work in the same location. These features of preindustrial wages have been obscured by data aggregation and the construction of real wage series, which introduce variation. In this paper, we argue that the standard explanations for wage rigidity in economic history are insufficient. We show econometric evidence for monopsony power in one major organization and argue that the main historical wage series are also affected by employer power. Eighteenth-century England had an imperfectly competitive labour market with large frictions. This gave large organizations the power to set wage policies. We discuss the implications for the eighteenth-century British economy and research into long-run wages more generally.

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