EH442      Half Unit
Labour Markets in Historical Perspective

This information is for the 2023/24 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Christopher Minns SAR 6.15


This course is available on the MSc in Economic History, MSc in Economic History (Research), MSc in Financial History, MSc in Global Economic History, MSc in Global Economic History (Erasmus Mundus) and MSc in Political Economy of Late Development. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Course content

This course explores a selection of topics related to the history of labour markets.  The course is divided into four parts.

The first part is an introduction to issues and concepts from economics and other social sciences relevant to understanding labour markets in the past.

The second part of the course focuses on the role of human and physical capital in determining long-run patterns in wage levels, productivity, and the adoption of new technology and forms of organization.

The third part of the course explores issues related to geographical mobility and economic development, with particular focus on international migration and the immigrant experience at the destination.

The fourth and final part of the course address disparities in historical labour markets, with particular attention to differences in inequality and economic mobility over space and by gender and race.

The course draws on findings from a range of historical contexts to illustrate how social scientists have used theories, methods, and evidence to understand labour market developments in the past, and in turn considers what these findings imply about the relevance of different social science approaches.


20 hours of seminars in the AT.

The course will be taught as 10 two-hour seminars during Autumn Term

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 essay in the AT.

One 2,500 word formative essay in the Autumn Term.

Indicative reading

The following indicative readings preview course topics:

  • Abramitzky and Boustan, Streets of Gold (2022)
  • Bayer and Charles, "Divergent Paths: a New Perspective on Earnings Differences Between Black and White Men Since 1940." Quarterly Journal of Economics (2018)
  • Goldin, Career and Family: Women's Century-Long Journey Towards Equity (2021)
  • Goldin and Katz, The Race Between Technology and Education (2008)
  • Hatton and Williamson, The Age of Mass Migration: Causes and Economic Impact (1998)
  • Humphries and Weisdorf, "Unreal Wages? Real Incomes and Economic Growth in England, 1260-1850." Economic Journal (2019)

A detailed, article-based reading list will be provided at the beginning of Autumn Term.


Exam (100%, duration: 2 hours) in the spring exam period.

Key facts

Department: Economic History

Total students 2022/23: Unavailable

Average class size 2022/23: Unavailable

Controlled access 2022/23: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Application of numeracy skills
  • Specialist skills