I've been working on building a society for my story, but I've run into what I consider to be a significant problem. What are the different professions required to maintain a society of a technological level of ~1800? How much demand is there for these professions compared to each other? (Such as you need X amount of farmers as opposed to X amount of blacksmiths.)

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    $\begingroup$ Dwarf fortress seems like it was made to answer this question, but if dwarf fortress taught me anything it's that playing dwarf fortress is not right the answer to anything. $\endgroup$ – user25818 Apr 18 '17 at 19:32
  • $\begingroup$ More specifics: what is the economic basis of this society? One might need more fishermen in 1801 Massachusetts than 1801 Pittsburgh. $\endgroup$ – Willk Apr 18 '17 at 20:34

Roughly, at around 1800, for a moderately fertile country such as England, you would need:

  • 20% of the population in agriculture (farmers and their families).
  • 25% of the population engaged in various manufacturing jobs or families of men engaged in manufacturing jobs (including blacksmiths, shoemakers, tailors, carpenters and also factory workers making thread, cloth, iron, bronze, machinery, glass etc.)
  • 15% of the population in domestic service (if we include women servants; keeping house was hard work before washing machines, vacuum cleaners, microwave ovens and fast-food restaurants).
  • 10% of the population engaged in commerce (retail shops were all the rage, there were very few large department shops and there were no nation-wide chains such as Wallmart or Carrefour).
  • 5% day labourers (10% with their wives and children).
  • 6% of the population would have independent financial means of be members of the families of financially independent men. Those are the people who engage in politics, run for members of parliament, pursue scientific research and so on.
  • All other occupations and professions would be rare. There are very few civil servants, social workers, soldiers, sailors, lawyers, doctors etc.

For real numbers you cannot beat A Vision of Britain, which offers (among other delicious treats) synthetic tables extracted from the historical census returns. For example, for the 1841 census (numbers for England and Wales, occasionally rounded):

  • 16.5% percent of the population were engaged in commerce, trade, and manufacture.
  • 7.9% percent of the population were engaged in agriculture, of which:
    • 20% were farmers and graziers.
    • 76% were agricultural labourers.
    • 4% were gardeners, nurserymen and florists.
  • 4.2% were labourers.
  • 0.3% were military (meaning land forces) and 0.6% were naval. If Scotland is included, those numers climb to 0.7% land forces and 1.2% naval.
  • 0.3% were professional persons (that is, engaged in liberal professions, such as medical doctors, lawyers, professors, or architects).
  • 0.8% were other educated persons following miscellaneous pursuits.
  • 0.1% were engaged in government and civil service (the past is a very foreign country, isn't it).
  • 0.1% were parochial, town, and church officers, including police and law-officers.
  • 6.3% were domestic servants.
  • 2.8% were independent (or as we would say today, rentiers, people who have sufficient independent income from property or investment).
  • 1.1% were almspeople, pensioners, paupers, lunatics, and prisoners.
  • In total, the preceding occupations represent 41% of the population, leaving a residue of 59% of population not engaged in an occupation (which corresponds nicely with about 50% of the population being children and married women).

Note that at that time England was the world's leading exporter of manufactured goods; England had also the world's largest merchant marine. In other countries the percentage of people engaged in making manufactured goods and in trade would be smaller or much smaller. In countries which were large exportes of agricultural products (such as Hungary or Wallachia) the percentage of people engaged in agriculture would be considerably higher.

In general, countries participate in international trade, and the occupations of their inhabitants depend not only on the level of development but also on what each country exports and imports; in the time frame of interest, England specialized in exporting manufactured goods, and imported staple foods, which means that the number of people engaged in industry was higher than the average developed country, and the number of people engaged in agriculture was lower. Socio-political structure and culture are also important.

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  • $\begingroup$ I think this would depend somewhat on the specifics of the crops being grown. For example, it's been argued that China's social structure evolved differently from Western countries partly because of how rice differs from crops like wheat - you need more physical space to grow enough rice to feed 100 people than you do to grow enough wheat to feed 100 people, and that affects how much of your population needs to be devoted to that task. $\endgroup$ – Ben S. Apr 19 '17 at 21:40
  • $\begingroup$ @BenS.: The last paragraph of the answer is an attempt to say that the specific historical example is just an example, and things may vary. For example, China never really had "a technological level of ~1800" as most Europeans would understand it -- it went straight from about the tech of the 1700s to the tech of the early 1900s; it never really had a sizeable merchant marine until the end of the 20th century; and so on. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Apr 19 '17 at 22:22
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry if I wasn't clear - I think you've provided a lot of really good information here. All I was trying to say is that if these numbers turned out to be problematic for what the OP is trying to do in some way - e.g., more of them need to be engaged in agriculture for some reason - I think differences can be justified by changing the crops, the geography, etc.. But as far as the solid numbers go, what you've provided seems pretty damn good. $\endgroup$ – Ben S. Apr 19 '17 at 23:12
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    $\begingroup$ I think that you should make it more clear, that England was heavily dependent on grain imports, so a generic ~1800 country at that time should have much more agricultural workers. $\endgroup$ – Shadow1024 Apr 22 '17 at 19:10
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    $\begingroup$ @Shadow1024: Clarification added to the effect that countries participate in international trade, and the occupations of their inhabitants depend on what each country exports and imports. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Apr 22 '17 at 19:18

1800 tech level is quite loose definition. It can be anything from hunting-gathering tribes in South-America to England in the early industrial revolution. I will chose the latter, and rely heavily on this link:


England's population was about 8 million at the time

36% of your people will still be farmers and their families.

Another 36% will be rural non-farmer.

This includes a lot of things: Priests, teachers, medics , blacksmiths and coopers and potters, traders, landed gentry, majors... I think one priest and medic per 100 people should be more than enough for the period. From craftsmen you will need somewhat higher density, but these numbers depend on the sizes of the avarage settlements. If the villages are small, you need more blacksmiths to get everybody's horses iron-shod. Same holds for majors and local judges.

And you need quite a lot of traders, to carry the products of the country into the cities, and then sell the goods of industry on the land.

The remaining 28% is the urban population.

  • You need one king and some royal family members.

  • You need some bishops and other high-ranked clerics.

  • You need some thousands soldiers and naval sailors.

  • Some thousands of officials for public administration: from ministers to country tax collectors.

  • Some thousand businessmen: bankers, merchants and factory owners.

  • Some thousands of engineers, and some hundreds of scientist and university professors.

  • Tens of thousands of lawyers and medics and priest and teachers again.

  • The remaining will be workers, sailors, craftsmen, tailors and hairdressers, shopkeepers, and the sinewies of those.

  • Policemen and criminals are also unavoidable.

Of course, one (a communist for example) can argue, whether bankers and factory owners and priests are actually needed, but I think, that to have a specific 1800 tech level, you need a quite similar society. (for example, with no capitalism, you probably won't get India-going sailing ships.)

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    $\begingroup$ @Mołot Who needs clothes when you have boats? The ancient Greeks certainly didn't seem to. $\endgroup$ – Xandar The Zenon Apr 19 '17 at 3:43
  • $\begingroup$ @XandarTheZenon OP requested 1800 tech level. Early Industrial revolution was led by looming and weaving industry. So they need clothing. $\endgroup$ – b.Lorenz Apr 19 '17 at 9:01

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