Division of Labor


Of the Division of Labour

Division of labor is the main cause of increased labor productivity.


The greatest improvement in the productive powers of labour, and the greater part of the skill, dexterity, and judgment with which it is anywhere directed, or applied, seem to have been the effects of the division of labour.

Example of pin-making.


To take an example, … the trade of the pin-maker, a workman not educated to this business …. could scarce,… make one pin in a day, and certainly could not make twenty. But in the way in which this business is now carried on, … One man draws out the wire, another straights it, a third cuts it, a fourth points it, a fifth grinds it at the top for receiving, the head; …. it is even a trade by itself to put them into the paper; and the important business of making a pin is, in this manner, divided into about eighteen distinct operations, which, in some manufactories, are all performed by distinct hands, … I have seen a small manufactory of this kind where ten men only were employed, and where some of them consequently performed two or three distinct operations. …. They could, when they exerted themselves, make among them about twelve pounds of pins in a day. There are in a pound upwards of four thousand pins of a middling size. Those ten persons, therefore, could make among them upwards of forty-eight thousand pins in a day. Each person, … might be considered as making four thousand eight hundred pins in a day.

The effects of the division of labor are naturally much greater in industry than in agriculture and therefore agricultural countries are frequently poor.


In every other art and manufacture, the effects of the division of labour are similar …The separation of different trades and employments from one another seems to have taken place in consequence of this advantage. This separation, too, is

generally called furthest in those countries which enjoy the highest degree of industry and improvement; ……. This impossibility of making so complete and entire a separation of all the different branches of labour employed in agriculture is perhaps the reason why the improvement of the productive powers of labour in this art does not always keep pace with their improvement in manufactures…. though the poor country, notwithstanding the inferiority of its cultivation, can, in some measure, rival the rich in the cheapness and goodness of its corn, it can pretend to no such competition in its manufactures; ….

Division of labor has 3 efects:

1) Person doing again and again some simple operation learns quickly to do it very fast.

2) That person also saves a lot of time by not having to switch to many different operations one after the other.

3) Division of labor allows much more easily to substitute human work by machines.

This great increase of the quantity of work which, in consequence of the division of labour, the same number of people are capable of performing, is owing to three different circumstances; first, to the increase of dexterity in every particular workman; secondly, to the saving of the time which is commonly lost in passing from one species of work to another; and lastly, to the invention of a great number of machines which facilitate and abridge labour, and enable one man to do the work of many.

An example showing that attempts to save own labor may lead to  improvement of machines and to increase of productivity.


In the first fire-engines, a boy was constantly employed to open and shut alternately the communication between the boiler and the cylinder, according as the piston either ascended or descended. One of those boys, who loved to play with his companions, observed that, by tying a string from the handle of the valve which opened this communication to another part of the machine, the valve would open and shut without his assistance, and leave him at liberty to divert himself with his playfellows. One of the greatest improvements that has been made upon this machine, since it was first invented, was in this manner the discovery of a boy who wanted to save his own labour.

Division of labor also increased productivity in the production of machines.


Many improvements have been made by the ingenuity of the makers of the machines, when to make them became the business of a peculiar trade












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