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.
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.
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.
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