Economics » Theory of Production » Division of Labour and Specialization

Introduction to Division of Labour

Division of labour refers to the process whereby production is broken into smaller processes so that each process is performed by a different worker. Specialisation is the concentration of a worker in the performance of a particular job.

Specialisation and division of labour are concepts used to describe a production process where only a small part of the work or of the production is undertaken by one person or region, each of whom specialises in a single process.

Division of Labour and Specialization

The division of labour is the separation of tasks in any economic system so that participants may specialize (specialization). Individuals, organizations, and nations are endowed with or acquire specialized capabilities and either form combinations or trade to take advantage of the capabilities of others in addition to their own. Specialized capabilities may include equipments or natural resources in addition to skills and training and complex combinations of such assets are often important, as when multiple items of specialized equipments and skilled operators are used to produce a single product. The division of labour is the motive for trade and the source of economic interdependence.

After the Neolithic Revolution, pastoralism and agriculture led to more reliable and abundant food supplies, which increased the population and led to specialization of labour, including new classes of artisans, warriors, and the development of elites. This specialization was furthered by the process of industrialisation, and Industrial Revolution-era factories. Accordingly many classical economists as well as some mechanical engineers such as Charles Babbage were proponents of division of labour. Also, having workers perform single or limited tasks eliminated the long training period required to train craftsmen, who were replaced with lesser paid but more productive unskilled workers.

Historically, an increasing division of labour is associated with the growth of total output and trade, the rise of capitalism, and the increasing complexity of industrialised processes. The concept and implementation of division of labour has been observed in ancient Sumerian (Mesopotamian) culture, where assignment of jobs in some cities coincided with an increase in trade and economic interdependence. Division of labour generally also increases both producer and individual worker productivity.

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