In this article we will discuss about the definition of division of labour. Also learn about its drawbacks and disadvantages.

The modern age is the age of large-scale industries and businesses. Though the bigger is not always the better and bigger does not always become the biggest, trend towards the bigger — the larger — is much too pronounced.

As a matter of fact, if small-scale enterprises had retained the fields of industry and commerce, single ownership firms, partnership firms and cooperative societies would have been the main forms of business organisation — not joint stock companies and State enterprises. In that case, joint stock companies and State management would not have come into prominence.

The growth of large-scale production has been rendered possible primar­ily by two factors:


(a) Division of labour, and

(b) Use of machinery.

We now discuss scale of production and its two primary factors, i.e., division of labour and use of machinery.

Meaning and Definition of Division of Labour:


Perhaps the most interesting and important feature of production in a modern economy is the fact that a worker never makes a complete product, however simple it might be. In fact, in a modern economy most people satisfy their needs by consuming goods and services made with other people’s labour.

In other words, most people are not engaged in producing those goods and/or rendering those services which satisfy their wants directly. The food that we eat, the cars that we drive, the clothes and shoes we wear, the furniture we use are all made by the labour of other people.

The fact is that workers specialise. Each worker makes a very small contribution to the production of some commodity or the provision of some service. This is the essence of the concept of division of labour. It refers to the fact that the production process is divided (split) into a very large number of individual operations and each operation is the special task of a single worker.

A visit to a modern factory such as an automobile assembly plant shows that the principle of division of labour is now carried to remarkable lengths. Even in small workshops producing nuts and bolts, the production process may be broken down into several separate processes.


In 1776 Adam Smith gave a simple example of specialisation which has by now become the most celebrated account of specialisation. Adam Smith pointed out that division of labour was an important source of efficiency in the economy.

He cited the example of pin manufacturing in this context. To explain the workings of the division of labour, he described a factory making pins. On a visit to a factory making a very simple item, viz., pins, he observed- “One man draws out the wire, another straightens it, a third cuts it, fourth points it, a fifth grinds the top to receive the head; to make the head requires two or three distinct operations; to put it on is a peculiar business; to whiten it is another; it is even a trade in itself to put them into paper”. The important business of making pins is, in this manner, divided into about 18 distinct operations.

Adam Smith estimated that production per day in this factory was about 5,000 pins per worker. He estimated that if the whole operation had been carried out from start to finish by the same worker, he would have been able to make only a few dozen each day. The techniques of division of labour which Adam Smith noticed in pin-making have perhaps reached their ultimate development in modern motor car assembly plants, where a particular worker’s function may consist entirely of tightening a particular set of bolts.

If making a pin can be split into eighteen separate processes, each being done by a different worker, then it is obvious that making something as complicated as a car would involve thousands of different processes.

Five Types of Division of Labour:

A glance over any modern industrial organisation reveals distinctly that it is based on specialisation. The division of labour is not a quaint practice of eighteenth century pin factories; it is a fundamental principle of economic organisation.

Specialisation or division of labour denotes the limiting of the range of activities within a particular field. It is to be noted that the term ‘specialisa­tion’ is wider than division of labour, for it includes not only the specialisation of labour but also the specialisation of other factors such as land, capital, etc. Under specialisation or division of labour, a particular work is divided into several processes, and a separate group of labourers is employed for each and every process.

There are at least five different types of division of labour:

(a) Division into trades and professions (e.g., division of social work into four groups for four castes as in the ancient Hindu Society or shoe making by shoe-makers, furniture making by carpenters, etc.),


(b) Division of labour into complete processes (e.g., spinning of cotton by spinners, weaving of threads by weavers),

(c) Division of labour into incomplete processes (e.g., specialisation of labour in a modern factory in working a process which remains incomplete — turning of screws constantly by a labour, or making a part of shoe laces, etc.) and

(d) Territorial division of labour or localisation of industry (e.g., concen­tration of jute mills in West Bengal, Cotton textiles mills in Mahrashtra and Gujarat, etc.),

(e) International division of labour. Nowadays, we also find that coun­tries specialise. Different countries specialise in the production of different commodities in which they enjoy certain advantages. And international trade is based on international division of labour and specialisation.



There are several reasons why the division of labour is such an efficient way of producing goods and services. Products can be produced at low cost. This is because specialist workers can be employed who are obviously far quicker and more skilful at their jobs than a worker who tries to do all the tasks by him or herself. A specialist worker is also less likely to lose time moving between jobs. A pin worker who makes and packs pins is going to have to move between a pin-making machine and a packing table.

This movement wastes time compared to a situation where workers specialise in each task. Less time and effort are also needed to train workers. Special tools can be developed to help with the production of part of the finished product. These tools will also be in far greater use than in a situation where each worker had to have his or her own set of tools, which for most of the time would lie idle.

The division of labour is also efficient because it is only by sharing and cooperating that complex modern products can be created and produced. No individual, for instance, could alone have produced a pocket calculator, or a television set or a modern office block.


Some advantages of division of labour are easily understandable:

1. Increase in output:

Great development in the fields of industry and commerce has been made possible by division of labour. For example, steam engines are manufactured by a large number of persons, each doing a little bit. Therefore, the total output of steam engines has increased enormously.

2. Increase in productivity:

Secondly, division of labour leads to great increases in the productivity of labour. The reasons for improved perform­ance are many. As Adam Smith pointed out long ago, no man is equally efficient in all lines of production. Under a system of division of labour a man can adopt the profession or occupation for which he has an aptitude. In such an occupation he can produce more.

As G. F. Stanlake states:


“A person who spends his or her time performing one relatively simple task becomes extremely proficient at that particular operation. Constant repetition leads to great dexterity”.

This simply means ‘constant practice makes an individual perfect’.

3. Increase in skill and dexterity:

Thirdly, division of labour increases the skill and dexterity of the labourer. Under this system a man does the same thing repeatedly for a long time. Constant practice increases his skill. With experience he becomes an expert in his chosen line.

Thus, specialisation not only saves time, it saves skill as well. As Stan-lake has put it, “Specialisation means that many different occupations are created, each one of which calls for some particular aptitude. It is possible, therefore, for each worker to specialise in the job for which he or she is best suited”.

4. Time saving:


Fourthly, division of labour saves time. Change from one job to another (and thus putting down one set of tools and picking up another) or moving from one place to another involves loss of time. Division of labour confines a man to one job in one place. Hence, there is a saving of time.

Time is also saved in the training of operatives. A worker can be trained very quickly for the performance of a single operation.

5. More use of machinery:

Fifthly, division of labour leads to the use of more machinery. With extreme division of labour, the duties of individual labourers become more and more simplified. A time soon comes when a machine is invented to do the work formerly done by a human being.

As Stanlake puts it, “When a complex process has been broken down into a series of separate, simple processes it is possible to devise machinery to carry out each individual operation”. It is no doubt very difficult, for example, to produce a machine which would carry out the whole process of making a chair. But, once the job has been reduced to a series of separate tasks (operations), it becomes quite easy to use electric saws, planning machines, power-driven lathes, etc.

6. Cheaper goods and higher wages:


Finally, as a result of various advantages, the cost of production declines. More goods are available to the consumers at cheaper prices. The wage rate also tends to rise, because each labourer produces more.


There are also some disadvantages of division of labour:

1. Monotony and boredom:

First, division of labour when carried to extreme lengths makes work dull and monotonous. A man, who has to do the same thing throughout the day, finds no pleasure in his job. A worker gets hardly any opportunity to exercise initiative, judgment, manual skill or responsibility.

Most specialised workers find their jobs rather frustrating. Specialisation, carried to a great length, creates monotony and boredom. A change from one task to another has a soothing effect on the mind. A too narrowly specialised worker does not get the chance of such relaxation.


2. Loss of craftsmanship:

Secondly, the development of modern, sophis­ticated automated machines has led to loss of skills of many workers. Due to technological progress (i.e., invention of new machines) there has been a marked decline in the degree of craftsmanship required of the average industrial worker. So, an average worker is denied the psychic satisfaction of making something (or enjoy the pride in creation).

3. Danger of unemployment:

Thirdly, a specialised worker is an expert only in his own line of work. If, for any reason, he loses his job, he finds it difficult to get another. Thus, if a man’s only work is to fix heels to shoes, he knows nothing else and the jobs open to him are very limited.

To put it differently, specialisation means that the workers lack marketable skills since they do not have the wide industrial training which would make them adaptable to changes in the techniques of production. This simply means that their specialised functions can become obsolete when new machines are invented and their particular skills become useless elsewhere. Hence, there is a danger of unemployment in a rapidly changing world.

4. Interdependence:

Most modern systems of production are based on a number of different but interrelated processes and sub-processes. So, if a particular process break down, the whole production process may be af­fected. This is the danger of over-specialisation. We may illustrate the point by taking the example of the publishing industry. If the offset printing machine is out of order for a couple of days, virtually all other processes will become useless.

The binders and sales people will have to sit idle for even a week. Similarly, delays in the supply of any one input (say paper) may make both machine operators, binders and many other people redun­dant for some time. A specialised worker is not self-sufficient. He has to depend on others for the fulfilment of his needs. Thus, a blacksmith depends on the farmer for his food and the farmer in his turn depends on the blacksmith for his tools.

5. Cooperation among labour:

Specialisation implies a constant coopera­tion among labour working at the different stages of production. Without such cooperation, conscious or unconscious, production comes to a halt and division of labour becomes useless.

6. Continuity in production:

Specialisation requires continuity in pro­duction; otherwise good effects of division of labour cannot be fully realised. If production is discontinuous, labourers working at the differ­ent stages would suffer and become unemployed.

7. Extent of the market:

Adam Smith remarks that division of labour is limited by the extent of the market. His observation can be explained in the following way: division of labour causes a large increase in output which is to be sold fully in the market. Unless the market of the commodity is wide, the large output cannot be sold fully and so the division of labour would become practically useless and unproductive. A tailor can increase the making of dresses through the division of work among other employees.

But, he would be successful only when he finds a wide market for the garments he makes. For this reason, the scope of division of labour is wide in the production of goods for which the demand is universal (e.g., shoes, watches, clothes, etc.). But, it has a limited scope where the demand or market is not so wide (e.g., bricks, jewelleries, etc.).

8. Sectionalism:

Each group of specialised workers concentrates on its own interest. The common interest of the country and its common culture tends to be in jeopardy.

9. Dislocation of production:

It can easily occur because of the interde­pendence of the specialists. One problem, such as absence, faulty workman­ship or a strike, may stop the whole production process.

10. Loss of motivation:

Motivation of workforce may be reduced when individuals perform a single monotonous task. They may become dissatis­fied with their jobs and alienated from their employers.

11. Disadvantages to consumers:

Standardised products are made, lead­ing to less choice. Loss of individual craftsmanship may lead to lower quality products being made, e.g., machine-knitted, not hand-knitted, jumpers.

12. Physical limitations:

There are physical limitations as to how far work can be broken up. Adam Smith identified 18 separate processes in pin making. It would not have been possible to break it down into more processes.

13. Exchange:

The division of labour is also limited by exchange. If a farmer wants to specialise in producing wheat, but nobody wants to buy it, then it would not make sense for him to grow wheat. He would do better either growing food he wants to eat himself or food that can be sold in the open market.

14. Lack of transport facility:

It is not possible for large scale specialisa­tion to take place, if adequate transport facilities are not available. Poor transport means the goods cannot be moved easily from factory where they are made to market where they are sold.

15. Consumer preference:

Consumers may not want to mass-produced goods, but may prefer the individuality that comes from craft products.

16. Services:

Some products like hairdressing or services cannot be mass produced in the same way that a car can be.


The whole of the modern economy is built upon the division of labour. Each individual depends upon millions of other workers all round the world to provide goods and services. That is why people are ‘interde­pendent’ and not ‘independent’ in a modern society.

That is also why, if there were a complete breakdown of society (such as might follow a nuclear war), very few people in India would be able to survive. Workers have become so specialised that they do not have the skills to be a builder, own food-grower-cum-cloth-maker-cum-doctor, etc. What is more, without other workers such as oil drillers and mechanics, very few machines would work and without machines people can produce very little.