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23 July 2014
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Victorian Britain

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Working Life and the First Modern Census

By Geoff Timmins
Distribution of labour

Image of Victorian agricultural workers
Victorian agricultural workers, threshing corn 
As regards the distribution of the labour force, several changes can be clearly distinguished in Table 2, below, where the occupational groups for each census year are presented as percentages in a single column.

Firstly, the importance of agriculture in relation to other occupational groups continued its decline; the numbers employed fell by one-third and the percentage by more than one-half. These developments arose as British people could rely on obtaining increased supplies of imported food paid for by growing exports of the manufactured goods and services in which they specialised.

Table 2
Table 2: Comparing occupational groups in 1851 and 1901 

Secondly, there was a fall in the relative importance of manufacturing, though the numbers employed in that group increased by no less than 40 per cent, as the output of manufacturers continued to expand.

Thirdly, a striking change arose with regard to service occupations, the importance of which increased considerably in both absolute and relative terms; indeed, by 1901, service workers were far more numerous than workers in manufacturing. Such a change partly reflects the tremendous rise of commercial activity, but also the growing mechanisation of manufacturing processes.

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