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Family standards of living over the long run, England 1280-1850

Horrell, Sara Helen, Humphries, Jane and Weisdorf, Jacob (2020) Family standards of living over the long run, England 1280-1850. Past and Present, 250 (1). 87–134. ISSN 0031-2746

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Identification Number: 10.1093/pastj/gtaa005


We use new wage series for men, women and children in combination with an established cost of living index and standard assumptions about family size to construct a measure of family welfare in England, 1280-1850. We ask whether this family could achieve a standard of living historically defined as ‘respectable’. We extract information from primary and secondary sources to make adjustments for the participation rates of women and children, the varying number of days worked over time, the changing involvement of married women in paid work, and the evolving occupational structure. The resulting series is the first to depict the living standard of a representative working family over the very long run. Prior to the Black Death, our family existed just above subsistence, afterwards shortage of labour brought substantial albeit not unassailable gains. Tudor era turmoil and constraints on women’s work pushed the family below the ‘respectable’ standard. From the mid-1600s however, the gradual transformation of the economy coincided with improved welfare. Over these centuries, it was rare for men’s work alone to sustain the family at a respectable level; women and children’s earnings were necessary. This calls for a re-evaluation of the chronology, causes and consequences of long-run growth.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2020 The Past and Present Society, Oxford
Divisions: Economic History
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
JEL classification: N - Economic History > N3 - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Income, and Wealth > N33 - Economic History: Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Income and Wealth: Europe: Pre-1913
Date Deposited: 11 Nov 2019 11:57
Last Modified: 04 Feb 2022 01:06

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