Business Entry and Exit: Career Changes of Proprietors in England and Wales (1851–81) Using Record-Linkage

Bennett, Robert J.; Montebruno, Piero; Van Lieshout, Carry and Smith, Harry (2022). Business Entry and Exit: Career Changes of Proprietors in England and Wales (1851–81) Using Record-Linkage. Social Science History, 46(2) pp. 255–289.



The article links the digital records of individual proprietors in the manuscript censuses 1851–81 for the whole of England and Wales using the BBCE database to identify career changes of employers and own account proprietors. It investigates continuing proprietorship, entry to business from previous activity, and switching out of business. The article identifies the effects on switching of demography, gender, household relationships, sector markets, and opportunity/necessity measured by location and access to railways. Previous analysis of nineteenth-century proprietor careers has been based mainly on local case studies and large firms. This article allows examination across the spectrum of small and large businesses for a representative sample large enough to generalize to the behavior of the whole population. The analysis shows a larger proportion of flows between employer, own account, and worker status than often expected, indicating a relatively open and flexible Victorian economy, and higher than in the modern United Kingdom. Farm and nonfarm activities show contrasted patterns, with farm proprietors more stable with less switching, as to be expected. Switching appears to have slowed slightly over time, with incumbency increasing for both farm and nonfarm employers, and for both men and women, but own account proprietorship was often relatively ephemeral. The article assesses the factors influencing switching using logistic regression. This confirms age, sex, marital status, family position, location, and sector as significant for explaining switching/nonswitching. The results demonstrate that although open and flexible, proprietorship was highly varied between sectors, with changes of railway accessibility mainly significant for farmers.

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