Living standards of copper mine labour in Chile and the Central African Copperbelt compared, 1920s to 1960s Articles uri icon

publication date

  • February 2023

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 2078-0389

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 2078-0397


  • Large-scale copper mining has been the main industry in Chile and the countries conforming the Central African Copperbelt for about one century. While a relatively extensive social science literature exists on the mostly adverse macroeconomic and institutional effects of a high reliance on mineral exports and revenues, we address the effects on the labour force employed by this industry. We perform a novel inter-continental – as well as dynamic-historical – comparative assessment of the living standards of the domestic copper mineworkers in the three countries from ca1920 to ca1960. There are important similarities and disparities in levels and trends of real wages and other welfare provisions. In explaining the gap across continents, we discuss labour shortage and labour provision, productivity, and mobilization. We also highlight the underlying role of colonialism in determining the inter-continental differences. Copper miners are further found to have been better paid than other workers in all three countries.


  • copper mining; labour; living standards; global south