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After 170 years of labour market change, now only 1% of workers are in agriculture

The last 170 years have seen the proportion of workers who are in agriculture and fishing in England and Wales fall to 1% for the first time, down from 22% in Great Britain in 1841, according to a new report from ONS looking at long-term industrial change and some of the factors driving it. Over the same period the service sector rose from providing 33% of employment to 81%.

The report, which draws on data from censuses since 1841, shows that much of this change has been in the last 100 years. Throughout the late 19th century, manufacturing and services accounted for roughly 40% each of total employment, while agriculture and fishing was steadily declining. The service sector first overtook manufacturing in its share of employment in 1881. Those employed in the energy and water sector rose from 3% to 6% of the working population between 1841 and 1901 as the demand for coal for steam power increased.

However, subsequently the service sector has fairly steadily increased its share of employment, with the gap between it and manufacturing widening, especially in the period since 1961. By 2011, manufacturing accounted for only 9% of employment (down from 36% in 1841), with no part of the country having as much as a quarter of its workforce in manufacturing. The most recent period, between the 2001 and 2011 censuses, saw these established trends continue. Energy and water accounted for only 1% of employment in 2011, as did agriculture and fishing. Construction’s share of employment did not change much, moving from 5% in 1841 to 8% in 2011.

The report also looks in more detail at the distribution of employment by industry in 2011, down to local level. Among the points to emerge from this, the local authority area with the highest proportion of jobs in manufacturing was Corby, at 24%; real estate activities were highest in Kensington and Chelsea, at 3%; the area with the highest proportion working in education was Oxford (24%), and accommodation and food services were most predominant in the Isle of Scilly, at 24% of total employment.

In 2011, the industry with the highest proportion of women workers was public administration, education and health, at 70%; while the one with the lowest proportion was construction, at just 12%.

A podcast giving more background on this analysis in available on the ONS Youtube channel at

Background notes

  1. There is a summary report at
  2. Data cover Great Britain for the period 1841 to 1911, and England and Wales from 1921 to date.
  3. Follow us on and on the ONS Youtube channel at
  4. National Statistics are produced to high professional standards set out in the Code of Practice for Official Statistics. They undergo regular quality assurance reviews to ensure that they meet customer needs. They are produced free from any political interference. © Crown copyright 2013.

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