What is Division of Labor Origin Characteristics and Karl Marx

Division of Labor

The  division of labor  is an economic concept that  refers to the division of the different tasks that are part of the production process of a good or service . In this way, the production process is divided into different stages, which allows workers to specialize in specific tasks that will be carried out by a certain group of people.

Thus, it can be affirmed that the division of labor is the origin of labor specialization, which consists of the fragmentation of the production process of a good or service into different tasks that will be carried out by specific individuals, depending on the strength, the ability or specialty of workers. All this significantly increased the productivity and performance of factories and companies, which translated into greater benefits for them.


To make the concept of the division of labor more visible, we are going to give an example. For this example, we are going to suppose that we are the managers of a company that is dedicated to the production, packaging and commercialization of a brand of soft drink.

We noticed that in our company there are many problems in the organization of work, that our workers in general know many tasks of the company but never specialize in one, so this is causing us problems in terms of the load of activities that each one of them has. the workers, so as managers of the company we decided that what we have to do is reorganize the work environment.

To do this, the first thing we do is separate the company into sectors where each activity that we develop, be it production or packaging or dispatch preparations, will be divided into the different wings of the company. For that, we arranged for the company to have a On the production side, in the middle, the packaging area, and on the other side of the company we are going to have the merchandise dispatch area.

After we arranged the company in order of activities, we are going to separate the work groups for each area of ​​activity, there we will implement the division of labor, we are going to have differentiated groups that each group does a few but specific activities, thus perfecting their technique and improving the entity’s performance.

Thus, in this example we saw how a company would apply an orderly division of labor model to improve its efficiency and thus produce more in less time in an orderly manner.

Origin and history of the division of labor

With the  appearance of activities such as trade or crafts,  the need for a work system that guaranteed the safety of workers became clear, thus giving rise to the division of labor. However, the technical development of the tasks brought with it an increase in the productivity of the industries that resulted in a surplus of production.

The division of labor  arises to respond to the social, geographical and technological circumstances of the time , so that, thanks to this division of labor, those people who are not engaged in agriculture or livestock could continue to feed themselves. This occurs thanks to the production surplus that has already been mentioned and which is the result of a much more competitive and productive industry. However, and although the birth of the division is directly related to surplus production, the truth is that this way of organizing production in industries facilitated a more plural and diverse way of organizing society.

Characteristics of the division of labor

The  characteristics  of the division of labor are the following:

  • Difference of abilities : the tasks are divided depending on the abilities that the workers have, so that they will occupy the positions that best suit their abilities.
  • Learning through experience : the workers, by repeating the activities of their position, become specialists in that specific activity.
  • Time saving : time is saved, since the worker is permanently performing the same task, so that the time that would be lost in case of having to go from one task to another is not wasted.

The division of labor according to Adam Smith and Karl Marx

The division of labor was the object of study for great economists throughout history. For the relevance of some, the most prominent were Adam Smith and Karl Marx .

Adam Smith

For Adam Smith, the division of labor was one of the main causes for nations to increase their wealth. According to the Scottish economist and father of the classical school, the division of labor allowed great increases in productivity, since the worker did not need to constantly change tools in the manufacturing process . Product of the fact that it only performed one task of the production process. This, for Smith, allowed producers to save capital, since a worker did not need to have all the tools to make a good or service, but rather those that he needed to carry out his task within the production process.

In this way, Smith considered that, through the division of labor, the worker specialized more and more in his function. This allowed that, by gaining experience in certain tasks, these were perfected over time. In turn, this phenomenon favored the technical development of the tasks. This happened because the specialized workers had more and more knowledge about the task, allowing them to develop new tools and techniques. Phenomenon that allowed him to carry out the task in a more efficient and mechanized way.

On the other hand, Adam Smith highlighted several negative factors that originated from the division of labor. Among them, the division, in turn, of wages. Smith considered that the division of labor, depending on the task to be carried out, produced salary differences between the different individuals, based on the characteristics of the task to be carried out. On the other hand, Smith also considered the deterioration of the advancement of knowledge, by developing highly mechanized and monotonous tasks. For this, Smith considered that the division of labor should be compensated with an incentive for education, to mitigate this deterioration.

Karl Marx

On the other hand, although in line with Smith, Marx argued the possible problems of specialization, since he considered that, over time, the monotony of carrying out repetitive tasks ended up frustrating workers. In turn, Marx assumed that, in a scenario where the tasks were increasingly repetitive, the worker needed less knowledge to carry out his work. This, for Marx, results in a lower future qualification of the employees, who need less knowledge than they would need if they had to carry out the entire productive task.

Within his theoretical applications, for Marx, and in reference to his theory of class struggle, he considered that, on occasions, the division of labor came from a dependency relationship due to hierarchical issues, thus establishing social control. In addition, for Marx, the division of labor was expressed more naturally and in a more developed way within a communist system, since it did not establish such hierarchical principles.

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