Making a Living Living gallery heading 1901: Living at the Time of the Census Living in 1901
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Men's Work

The 1901 census found that 10,156,976 men, or 83.7% of the male population aged 10 and over, were in employment. Working life for most men in 1901 was not very different from that in the previous century. Most worked in traditional occupations such as agriculture, manufacturing, mining and the various transport industries. Nevertheless, a number of distinctive changes were recognisable as Britain moved into a new phase in its industrial history.

The fall and rise of employment sectors
Perhaps the most notable change was the decline in the importance of agriculture. By 1901 the number of males aged 10 and over employed in this sector had fallen to 9.5% from a figure in 1851 of 23.5%. Other long-established industries were also suffering from decline. Cotton manufacture, which had been one of the main driving forces of the Industrial Revolution, showed - for the first time - a decline in the number of people employed. Although the fall was only 3.1%, the 1901 Census Report pointed out that, in an industry of such magnitude, this was undoubtedly a matter of serious concern.
Traditional trades - link to an enlarged version


Industrial employment - link to an enlarged version


Certain newer sectors were, however, experiencing expansion. Perhaps the most dramatic was the increase in the number of men serving in the armed forces. As a result of the South African War, the army employed 98.3% more men than in 1891. The growth in what we would now term 'white collar' industries was of greater long-term significance, however. For example, employment of men in the telegraph and telephone services grew by 52.6%; in local government by 37.3%; and as merchants, agents and buyers by 36.6%. As the economic historian Roderick Floud has pointed out in The People and the British Economy 1803-1914, these changes marked the beginning of a process that would transform Britain into an essentially post-industrial nation by the end of the 20th century.

Working conditions

It is unlikely, however, that these changes made much impression on the average working man. Hours of labour and working conditions, although both now subject to some degree of parliamentary regulation, were still long and hard. Every month in
1901, over 300 people were killed and between 8 and 10,000 injured as a result of industrial accidents. What must have been more noticeable was the downturn of the economy in 1901. A Board of Trade report of the same year found that a large proportion of the workforce experienced a fall in wages in 1901.
     
Women's Work Children's Work Men's Work