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Respectable standards of living: the alternative lens of maintenance costs, Britain 1270-1860

Humphries, Jane (2023) Respectable standards of living: the alternative lens of maintenance costs, Britain 1270-1860. Economic History Working Papers (353). London School of Economics and Political Science, London, UK.

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This paper argues that in all societies there is considerable agreement about the goods and services needed to provide a respectable standard of living and that this can be measured by what it cost to maintain people of good standing. Such a measure allows for the inclusion of two neglected components of living costs: first, changes in the composition and quality of consumption, as opposed to concentrating on the price of a fixed consumption basket; and second, the value of the household services required to turn commodities into livings. More than 4400 observations, drawn mainly from diverse primary sources, trace levels and trends in maintenance costs for Britain, 1270-1860. These can be compared with conventional cost of living indicators to offer a complementary perspective that accommodates aspirational consumption and the input of household labour. The struggle to support families at respectable standards emerges as driving industriousness and motivating prudence among a class that played a major role in economic development. More speculatively, estimates of the time necessary to turn material goods into livings is then combined with evidence on women’s wages to evaluate the contribution of unpaid domestic labour to total income.

Item Type: Monograph (Working Paper)
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2023 The Authors
Divisions: Economic History
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
JEL classification: N - Economic History > N0 - General > N00 - General
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
B - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology > B5 - Current Heterodox Approaches > B54 - Feminist Economics
Date Deposited: 30 May 2023 15:30
Last Modified: 16 May 2024 12:30

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