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Old Questions, New Data, and

Alternative Perspectives: Families'

Living Standards in the Industrial

We have used the household accounts of 1,350 husband-wife families to investi-

gate trends in male earnings and family incomes. This evidence confirms the
material progress suggested by trends in the real wage rates of adult males. But
the budget data underscore occupational and regional distinctions, discontinuities
in the growth process, and changes over time in the ability of other family
members to offset the effects of the business cycle on men's earnings. Overall,
family incomes grew less than male earnings.
Working-men's budgets have often been collected and
compared. . . . This border ground between the prov-
inces of domestic and public economy is one in which
excellent work may be done by many who are disinclined
for more general and abstract speculations.
—Alfred Marshall

W hat happened to the standard of living of the working class during

British industrialization has probably been the most contentious
issue in economic history. After more than 50 years of historical
research, a relatively optimistic consensus has been established, based
on trends in real wages calculated from surviving labor and product
market data. Studies by Peter Lindert and Jeffrey Williamson and by
Williamson alone represent the confident cutting edge of the optimist
position, according to which industrialization bestowed impressive
gains in living standards: over 60 percent for farm laborers, over 80 percent
for "blue-collar workers," and over 140 percent for all workers.1
But recently some authors have tried to supplement the real-wage
approach using alternative measures of welfare, such as physical
The Journal of Economic History, Vol. 52, No. 4 (Dec. 1992). © The Economic History
Association. All rights reserved. ISSN 0022-0507.
Sara Horrell is a Research Officer in the Department of Applied Economics, and Jane Humphries
is a Lecturer in the Faculty of Economics, Cambridge University, Cambridge, England CB3 9DD.
The authors would like to thank the Leverhulme Trust for the generous support that made this
work possible. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Economic History Association
meetings in Boulder, Colorado, in September 1991. We thank the audiences at that presentation
and at subsequent seminars at Queens College, Cambridge, and All Souls College, Oxford, and
Jeffrey Williamson, Robin Matthews, Phyllis Deane, and Charles Feinstein for their helpful
comments. Advice from the editor of this JOURNAL and two anonymous referees is also gratefully
Lindert and Williamson, "English Workers' Living Standards"; Lindert and Williamson,
"English Workers' Real Wages"; and Williamson, British Capitalism.

850 Horrell and Humphries

stature, wages adjusted for the disutility of urban living, and consump-
tion per capita. 2 These have not always confirmed the optimists'
conclusions. Our article, too, brings a new perspective and alternative
evidence to bear on the debate, and in the process addresses major
weaknesses of the real-wage approach: first, its preoccupation with the
wages of adult males, and second, its conflation of wage rates and
In the conventional approach welfare is indexed by the real wages of
adult males. 4 But the standard of living is determined by the household's
access to all resources—including the contributions of other family
members and welfare subsidies. Changes in the real wages of men may
have been offset by opposing trends in the contributions of women and
children.5 Even if the wages of other family members moved in line with
men's, participation rates may have varied inversely. If industrialization
eliminated women's and children's economic options and increased
their dependence on men, as some authors have argued, growth in male
earnings would overestimate growth in family incomes and hence
overstate welfare gains.6 Alternatively, if industrialization created new
Floud, Wachter, and Gregory, Height, Health and History; Brown, "The Condition of
England," and Moykr, "Is There Still Life."
Humphries, "Lurking in the Wings," pp. 37-39; Neale, Writing Marxist History, chap. 6;
Pollard, "Sheffield and Sweet Auburn"; Mathias, The First Industrial Nation, pp. 191-202; and
Crafts, "English Workers' Real Wages."
Lindert and Williamson did recognize the potential distortions implicit in focusing solely on
adult male purchasing power; they tried to include women by looking at the ratios of female to male
weekly earnings and at hourly wage rates from several sources covering a variety of locations and
time periods. Although it was a useful starting point, this work's conclusions are rather ambiguous.
See Lindert and Williamson, "English Workers' Living Standards," p. 17.
Uncertainty about trends in the wages and participation rates of women and children—
especially in the precensus era—has not stopped authors from building assumptions about other
family members' economic contributions into their discussions of the standard of living. See
Thomas, "Women and Capitalism," for an exposition of the prematurity of these discussions,
given the paucity of empirical evidence. Most authors agree that during the first half of the
nineteenth century child employment dechned considerably—though to a level still high by later
standards. The decline was due to a combination of the transition from domestic industry (which
was compatible with the employment of children at young ages) to factory production and
protective labor legislation. See Hunt, British Labour History, pp. 9-17. But the trend is based on
less firm empirical foundations for earlier years. It remains possible that child labor increased in the
late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries but declined thereafter. The possibility has
influenced the work of those authors who believe other family members' earnings increased during
industrialization, compounding the real-wage gains of adult males.
There is even less hard evidence to show whether women's employment was expanding or
contracting before 1850 and whether it was more or less than it had been in preindustrial Britain.
Recent careful attention to the nineteenth-century censuses confirms the suggestion of a declining
trend, but can do little to inform us about events at the turn of the century. See Jordan, "The
Exclusion of Women." As in the case of child employment, the empirical evidence is weakest for
the crucible of industrialization (1780 to 1820). Here, too, the possibility of a period when women's
contributions were driving family incomes in advance of male earnings remains viable. For details
on the contributions of women and children to family incomes in the context of our household
accounts, see Horrell and Humphries, " 'Neither Welcome nor Understood.' "
For the argument that industrialization reduced women's and children's opportunities, see
Richards, "Women in the British Economy," and Jordan, "The Exclusion of Women." On
Families' Living Standards, 1787-1865 851

opportunities for women and children, as yet other authors have argued,
growth in male earnings would lag behind growth in family incomes.7
The real-wage approach also neglects nonwage sources of family
income—such as poor relief and self-provisioning—that may have
varied so as to offset changes in male earnings.8 Thus empirical
evidence showing trends in family earnings and nonwage sources of
family income constitutes a timely contribution to the debate.
The question of family earnings during industrialization is crucial also
to claims about trends in inequality. It has been argued that there was
declining inequality during the French wars, followed by widening
inequality from Waterloo to 1850.9 These claims are again based on
trends in male wages: in this case, trends in differentials between
occupations. If the wages or participation rates of other family members
varied inversely with male wages across occupations, inequality across
families may not have followed those trends.
The real-wage approach requires making assumptions about working
time to translate from weekly and even hourly wage rates to annual
earnings. Williamson argued that the choice of weeks worked mattered
little to the question of whether incomes rose or fell unless the number
of weeks "lost" varied greatly over time due to movements in involun-
tary unemployment.10 The issue is then subsumed into rather unsatis-
factory attempts to estimate unemployment in the years before unem-
ployment insurance. The probability that unemployment was uneven
over time and across occupations highlights the utility of direct attempts
to chart its impact.11
We explore the implications of industrialization on family incomes by
using a data set of household budgets that detail household composition,
sources of income (in kind or in cash), and the earnings of different
family members as well as expenditures for the years 1787 to 1865.12

children's employment opportunities, see Cunningham, "The Employment and Unemployment of

For the view that industrialization created opportunities, see McKendrick, "Home Demand,"
and Hunt and Botham, "Wages in Britain."
The transformation of the system of poor relief and the agricultural revolution that accompa-
nied industrialization may well have provided such countervailing pressures. See Boyer, English
Poor Law.
Williamson, British Capitalism, p. 15.
Ibid., p. 31, note 5.
R. S. Neale's construction of the actual lifetime earnings experience of two laborers employed
on the Walcot highway (using data on actual weekly earnings over 42 years) suggested that
nonagricultural laborers in Bath in 1837 were not materially better off than their equivalents in 1781.
Neale, Writing Marxist History, p. 114.
When a monetary value was attached to self-provisioned goods and perquisites in a budget, it
was included in total income but not in male earnings. In general such payments constituted a very
small percentage of family incomes (less than 1 percent). Self-provisioning was found to be more
important in agricultural budgets after 1816 as well as in mining and casual budgets early in the
period of industrialization; yet it still only comprised some 8 percent of family incomes. Women's
852 Horrell and Humphries

The data set has been compiled from 59 sources that include contem-
porary social commentators, Parliamentary Papers, local archives,
provincial record offices, and village autobiographies.13 Some of the
sources are well known and widely quoted, others unpublished and
unused. Neither type has been systematically analyzed to reveal pat-
terns in the composition of household income across sectors and over
time during industrialization. (The data set is described in detail in
Appendix 1.)
These household accounts facilitate the investigation of the relative
growth of male earnings and total receipts. In addition, our sources
often give indications of the regularity of work, and many explicitly
account for periodic illness and unemployment.14 When such informa-
tion was available we used it in the estimates: weekly income would
then be the average received during the year. From this point of view
our estimates provide a more accurate indication of what families
actually received than do estimates based on market wage rates
aggregated up to "full-time earnings," assuming a constant number of
weeks were worked each year.
Given our focus on family incomes, we selected only households
containing a man and wife.15 This gave us a sample of 1,350 households
distributed (though not randomly, of course) over time, place, and
occupation. Unfortunately, as with wage series, continuous data were
not available, and some years have only one or two observations.
Averaging over several years mitigates this problem but smooths out the
variation over time. Moreover, the occupational distribution is neither
stable nor representative, and the fact that different occupations had
different earnings and income experience makes overall sample aver-
and children's earnings, in contrast, constituted around 20 percent. See Horrell and Humphries,
" 'Neither Welcome nor Understood.' "
On the whole we included budgets whose documentation of income was accompanied by some
evidence on expenditures. The amount of detail provided on the expenditure side varied according
to the original motivation behind the budget's preservation. Some expenditure accounts are very
detailed but many are incomplete—for example, providing only a brief allocation between food and
rent. Our records of expenditures not only constitute the basis for a future analysis of the cost of
living using endogenous and shifting weights, but also provide an internal check on the consistency
and credibility of the income side of the accounts.
All families recording no employment for the household head were excluded from our
analysis. Thus long-term unemployment is not considered here, though short-term unemployment
or irregular or variable employment is captured by our data. Excluding those classified as without
work (often through sickness or disability) confines our discussion to known occupational groups
but imparts an upward bias to our aggregate income and earnings estimates.
Early nineteenth-century nuptiality rates of over 90 percent and lower life expectancy meant
that single persons living alone were much less common then than now. Most people spent a large
part of their lives in a husband-wife family, though this could be shattered by the death or desertion
of either adult. Restricting consideration to husband-wife households imparts an optimist bias,
because such households were likely to be better off than elderly people living alone or families
dependent on a single earner—particularly if the breadwinner were female. Old age and single
parenthood exposed families to poverty in the past as in the present.
Families' Living Standards, 1787—1865 853

ages meaningless as a guide to trends. Initially, therefore, our analysis

was done by occupation, facilitating comparisons with existing occupa-
tional wage indices.16 Later the occupational data were recombined,
using representative weights to provide indices of average earnings and
Region also influenced income and earnings. Again, there is no reason
to expect the sample of surviving records to be representative of the
relevant population. Although the occupational categories in part cap-
ture this distinction, the a priori difference in the experience of
agricultural laborers in high- and low-wage counties justified a further
subdivision.17 Regional employment weights were used later to recover
national averages for agricultural laborers' famines.


The households varied in composition and in number of workers,

both of which affected family incomes and living standards.18 Although
it is possible to investigate the effects of these and other life cycle
variables on family incomes within our sample, as is done in subsequent
regression analysis, here our intention is simply to check that the
sample's household composition over time and across occupations is
not grossly unrepresentative and so likely to distort conclusions about
the evolution and composition of incomes. Tables illustrating the family
composition of the husband-wife sample are annexed in Appendix 2. 19
Our sample's average household size varied little over time, though it
is larger than the 4.5 to 4.75 persons quoted as typical of the population
as a whole, because of our exclusion of single-person households.20
Aside from the two adults, most family members were children. There
was a tendency for more people to become dependent on those working
as the number of workers per household decreased toward the end of
the period. But the pattern and extent of that decline varied by
occupation and was seldom linear, with some occupations experiencing
several decades of increasing numbers of workers after the French wars
and before midcentury. By 1850 the number of workers per family was
broadly consistent with E. H. Phelps Brown's suggestion that, on the
average, late nineteenth-century families contained two workers.21
The occupational classification is detailed in Appendix 1.
These are divided by high- and low-wage counties according to Hunt, "Industrialization and
Regional Inequality," pp. 965-66.
Data on household composition are not complete for all families in the husband-wife sample.
Our discussion of household composition therefore relies on a smaller subsample of families.
A short working paper, providing a more detailed analysis of the demographic characteristics
of the husband-wife sample, is available from the authors on request.
Laslett and Wall, Household and Family; Laslett, Family Life; and Anderson, History of the
Western Family.
Phelps Brown, British Industrial Relations, p . 19.
854 Horrell and Humphries

Family composition varied by occupation broadly in line with expec-

tations. Outworker, mining, and factory families were larger than
artisan, agricultural, and casual labor families. Although the majority of
coresidents were children, larger family size may not reflect differential
fertility (though this was alleged of miners).22 Family size may have
been elevated by the practice, common in the textile districts and among
outworkers, of "huddling"—that is, combining households with rela-
tives to economize and in response to local housing shortages—or by
the ability to retain resident children because of local employment
opportunities or higher absolute earnings.23 Factory workers' and
outworkers' families had the largest average number of working mem-
bers: a key factor in the determination of family incomes.


The budget estimates of nominal male earnings shown in Table 1

exhibit reassuring similarities with existing series.24 A comparison of
our occupational earnings with estimates constructed from wage data,
and internal checks to ensure that the broad occupational categories
were not biased by changes in intracategory skill levels or geographical
location, reinforce our confidence in the data set and in the evidence on
incomes from which the male earnings were extracted.25
But although our male earnings appear to be in the appropriate ranges
overall, our estimates for 1831 to 1835 seem low for most occupations;
and for 1846 to 1850, they seem high for the better-paid occupations—
such as mining and trades—compared with other series. Although our
subsequent analysis does not rely on observations for the 1830s, we
made much use of the 1846 to 1850 data to facilitate comparisons with
other work on living standards through industrialization; the possible
overstatement of earnings and income in this period should therefore be
borne in mind. But some of the differences between our data and other
series'—for example, our lower earnings for nonagricultural workers in
F o r a skeptical view, see B e n s o n , British Coalminers, p p . 121-22.
For supporting evidence, see Foster, Class Struggle, p. 97; Anderson, Family Structure, chap.
5; a n d Levine, Family Formation, p . 52.
We provide a detailed comparison of our male earnings estimates with occupational wage data
in "Male Earnings Estimates from Household Accounts," available from the authors on request.
What follows is a brief summary.
Comparisons are made with the following series, among others. For agricultural wages: Hunt,
"Industrialization and Regional Inequality," pp. 965-66; Bowley, "Statistics of Wages: I.
Agriculture," p p . 702-7; and Bowley, "Statistics of Wages: II. Agriculture," p p . 562-64. F o r
mining wages: Flinn, History of the British Coal Industry, p p . 388-89; Church, History of the
British Coal Industry, pp. 268, 561; and Lindert and Williamson, "English W o r k e r s , " p . 4. F o r
factory wages: Wood, "Statistics of Wages: XVI. The Cotton Industry," p . 135. For outworkers:
W o o d , "Statistics of Wages: XVIII. The Cotton Industry," p . 432; Bowley, "Statistics of Wages:
IX. Worsted and Woollen," p . 106; and Lyons, "Family R e s p o n s e , " p . 62. F o r trades: Phelps
Brown and Hopkins, " S e v e n Centuries," p. 205; and Bowley and Wood, "Statistics of Wages: V.
P r i n t e r s , " p . 713. For casual: Phelps Brown and Hopkins, "Seven Centuries," p . 205.
Families' Living Standards, 1787-1865 855

(£ per annum)
High-wage Low-wage
Years Agriculture Agriculture Mining Factory Outwork Trades Casual
1787-1790 18.37 16.38 28.50
(20) (81) (3)
1791-1795 24.91 20.84 27.73 25.56 16.41 32.79 32.40
(20) (17) (4) (4) (3) (7) (1)
1796-1800 28.95 18.20 — 24.70 36.40 —
(2) (1) (4) (1)
1806-1810 86.58 36.40 — —
(2) (1)
1811-1815 — — 57.51 62.92 36.68 — —
(1) (10) (14)
1816-1820 28.33 — 34.61 45.21 23.38 34.28 15.17
(38) (54) (24) (198) (30) (3)
1821-1825 — — 52.00 — 24.08 — —
(1) (6)
1826-1830 — 31.20 — — 25.36 — —
(1) (30)
1831-1835 32.24 17.89 35.10 37.46 17.22 19.55 11.02
(5) (62) (1) (11) (15) (3) (5)
1836-1840 28.95 20.78 66.04 43.21 24.61 41.72 17.95
(40) (73) (4) (17) (43) (5) (7)
1841-1845 30.95 21.96 42.73 49.40 17.40 39.00 23.40
(5) (9) (32) (2) (44) (1) (1)
1846-1850 — 23.40 70.61 48.88 — 61.75 —
(2) (1) (5) (4)
1851-1855 — 53.30 —
1860-1865 34.31 27.50 — 28.97 — —
(46) (79) (55)
Notes: The total sample was 1,161; sample sizes are given in parentheses.
Source: See the text.

the downturn after the Napoleonic wars—can be rationalized. Our data

set is sensitive to the state of trade and opportunities in the local labor
market: variables that may have a more powerful effect on actual
income and earnings than changes in relatively static wage rates. Yet the
phase of the business cycle and local conditions are bypassed by those
indices of full-time earnings constructed from quoted wage rates assum-
ing a fixed number of working weeks, which helps to explain our
relatively low earnings recorded for 1816 to 1820.26
The effects of the cycle are discernible in the male earnings data for
the three major industrial occupations, as shown in Table 2. After a
strong upward trend in nominal earnings during the Napoleonic wars,
miners and metal workers, factory textile workers, and outworkers
There is less difference between our estimates for 1841/45 and other estimates, though our
low-wage agriculture and factory earnings are relatively low. Possibly the standard indices pick up
the well-known recession of the forties more effectively than they do the earlier slump.
856 Horrell and Humphries
Nonagricultural Occupations
Years Mining Factory Outwork Trades Casual
1791-1795 to 1811-1815 107.4 146.2 123.5
70.1 94.7 94.5
1811-1815 to 1816-1820 -39.8 -28.1 -36.3
-17.6 -25.7 -38.0
1791-1795 to 1816-1820 24.8 76.9 42.5 4.5 -53.2
40.2 44.7 20.6 10.0 -43.9
1816-1820 to 1836-1840 90.8 -4.4 5.3 21.7 18.3
55.8 22.3 15.3 11.3 41.2
1836-1840 to 1841-1845 -35.3 14.3 -29.3 -6.5 30.4
-43.2 0.3 -35.9 -21.2 -23.2
1841-1845 to 1846-1850 65.2 -1.1 58.3
26.9 19.7 50.5
1791-1795 to 1841-1845 54.1 93.3 6.0 18.9 -27.8
55.8 77.5 -10.9 -3.6 -39.2
1791-1795 to 1846-1850 154.6 91.2 88.3
97.7 112.4 45.0

Agricultural Occupations
Years High-wage Low-wage

1787-1790 to 1796-1800 57.6 8.1

60.8 17.8
1796-1800 to 1831-1835 11.4 -1.7
59.5 20.0
1831-1835 to 1836-1840 -10.2 16.2
-39.9 3.3
1836-1840 to 1841-1845 6.9 5.7
5.0 -3.1
1841-1845 to 1860-1865 10.9 25.2
20.5 37.9
1791-1795 to 1841-1845 24.2 5.4
24.2 15.6
1791-1795 to 1860-1865 37.7 32.0
49.7 37.9
Note: The top figure in each group is male earnings; the bottom figure is family income.
Sources: Tables 1 and 3.

experienced declines in earnings of 40 percent, 28 percent, and 36

percent from 1811/15 to 1816/20. This compares with a drop of 13
percent for colliers and 5 percent for common laborers from 1815 to
1819, calculated from the Williamson data. In the latter, cotton spin-
ners' earnings were unchanged in the postwar slump despite the
claim—based on Lindert and Williamson's unemployment regres-
sions—that "industrial depression might have been as bad in the
immediate postwar years (1814-19) as in the early forties," and despite
N. F. R. Crafts's acknowledgment that accounting for postwar unem-
Families' Living Standards, 1787—1865 857

ployment would dramatically reduce any growth rate calculated to 1820

and boost any based on 1820.27 The downturn registered in our data is
partly a product of such accounting.
Similarly, comparing 1836/40 with 1841/45 (a quinquennium that Peter
Mathias said contained "the worst two years in the whole century")
shows that nominal earnings fell 35 percent for miners and 29 percent for
outworkers.28 Earnings actually rose for textile factory workers, but
artisans appear to have shared in the hard times.29 It is not possible to
compare these declines with the Williamson series, which has no
observations in the 1840s, but other series do indicate a downturn.
Although earnings for these groups recovered subsequently, the sever-
ity of this slump must undermine the credibility of any earnings series
that bypasses it. It must also discredit any notion that earnings were
more stable than wage rates because workers could always work harder
or longer. Falling wage rates were apparently accompanied by falling
employment, which left earnings spiraling down. Even for workers in
occupations that clearly gained from industrialization, like the miners,
the nineteenth-century earnings experience was a lot like a roller
What of the trends in nominal earnings on which these cyclical
fluctuations were superimposed? Miners experienced significant growth
in nominal earnings through the wars, a deterioration in. the postwar
slump, then growth again interrupted by the bad quinquennium 1841/45,
with recovery posted in the following five years. The pattern for adult
male factory workers was similar, though our data record the cyclical
decline in the 1830s—in part because the observations for 1840 fall into
the second quinquennium. Outworkers, however, parted company with
those two relatively fortunate groups after the boom in nominal earnings
that they all shared through the war years. For them the slumps in
1816/20 and 1841/45 were particularly chronic, and in the intervening
periods they struggled to make up lost ground. Artisans seem to have
shared in the wartime boom and postwar slump (though our evidence
here is sketchy), but thereafter their nominal earnings growth was low
relative to factory workers' or miners'.
The cycle is less evident in the earnings of agricultural laborers. In
high-wage counties their earnings increased during the war years,
stagnated in the thirties and forties, and only showed sustained im-
provement after midcentury. In low-wage counties the early gains were
Lindert and Williamson, "English W o r k e r s ' Living Standards," p . 15; and Crafts, "English
Workers' Real W a g e s , " p . 104.
Mathias, The First Industrial Nation, p . 214.
However, the previous quinquennia contains the observations for 1840, and the decline of 23
percent here may capture the effects of the recession on the cotton operatives. Also, it was widely
recognized at the time that outworkers, w h o were used by the employer as a cyclical buffer, were
provided with work in a b o o m but were starved of employment when d e m a n d fell; whereas factory
operatives tended t o b e kept in work because of the expenses of capital equipment.
858 Horrell and Humphries

less apparent, the thirties saw nominal earnings fall back to the levels of
the 1780s, and the forties were not much better. Only by the 1860s were
their nominal earnings significantly higher than in 1791/95.
Thus like other series, our data show the wartime inflation, at least
partly reflected in nominal earnings, and the fall back from those
levels. 30 But in addition, our data emphasize the substantial interrup-
tions to any upward trends that even the more fortunate groups
experienced, the exacerbation that recessions afforded the deteriorating
situation of the outworkers, and the stagnation in nominal terms of the
earnings of (particularly low-wage) agricultural laborers: in these senses
our story is pessimistic. Our data also warn against reliance on overall
growth rates calculated for the period as a whole that imply steady
progress from one date to another. Whereas nominal figures for the end
years exhibit significant growth compared with 1791/95, progress was
far from continuous, with the important implication that conclusions
about welfare are critically dependent on the pace and timing of price
Does the evidence on family incomes suggest similar or divergent


Table 3 presents total family income estimates to compare with male

earnings.31 Early on, nominal family income for nonagricultural families
was more stable over the cycle than was male income: it grew less
dramatically from 1791/95 to 1811/15 and then declined less dramatically
in the postwar slump (except for outworkers, whose reduction in family
income was slightly greater). Families of miners and factory workers
offset some of the fall in the earnings of household heads. Adult males
could not offset the fall in wages and employment by working harder or
longer, but in some occupations other family members appear to have
been able to exploit opportunities to earn and to have compensated, at
least in part, for the decline in male earnings. In some cases family
incomes were shored up by Poor Law subsidies.
In the later slump, from 1836/40 to 1841/45, the pattern changed:
outworking, mining, and trades families were not only unable to
See Horrell and Humphries, "Male Earnings Estimates from Household Accounts."
The composition of family incomes varied by occupation, but in general male earnings
comprised upward of one-half, usually around 70 to 80 percent. Women's and children's earnings
made up 15 to 42 percent of total income, usually around 20 percent, though a higher proportion in
factory and outworking families, and were mainly the product of children's rather than women's
employment. Other sources of income were relatively small overall, normally around 2 percent of
family income. But at certain times, and for certain occupations, poor relief was an important
component. Although it was a negligible component of incomes for trade, factory, and mining
families, it formed 13 percent and 21 percent, respectively, of low-wage agricultural and casual
workers' families' incomes for 1816 to 183S. For further detail on the composition of household
incomes, see Horrell and Humphries, " 'Neither Welcome nor Understood.' "
Families' Living Standards, 1787-1865 859

(£ per annum)
High-wage Low-wage
Years Agriculture Agriculture Mining Factory Outwork Trades Casual
1787-1790 21.44 22.10 53.40
(20) (81) (3)
1791-1795 27.97 27.07 39.79 44.06 35.18 42.58 39.40
(22) (17) (4) (4) (3) (7) (1)
1796-1800 34.48 26.03 — — 41.44 56.80 —
(2) (1) (4) (1)
1806-1810 — — — L13.10 63.44 — —
(2) (1)
1811-1815 — — 67.70 85.80 68.44 — —
(1) (10) (15)
1816-1820 41.21 55.79 63.74 42.42 46.82 22.10
(38) (59) (27) (232) (31) (3)
1821-1825 — — 52.00 — 57.61 — —
(1) (6)
1826-1830 — 39.26 38.45
(1) (42)
1831-1835 55.00 31.24 35.10 87.34 44.53 40.30 29.79
(5) (62) (1) (11) (15) (3) (5)
1836-1840 33.07 32.28 109.08 77.95 48.89 52.10 31.21
(61) (73) (4) (41) (55) (5) (7)
1841-1845 34.74 31.29 61.98 78.21 31.33 41.03 23.97
(5) (9) (35) (20) (44) (1) (1)
1846-1850 — 23.40 78.66 93.60 — 61.75 —
(2) (1) (5) (4)
1851-1855 — 78.21
1860-1865 41.86 37.33 — 54.09 42.20 — —
(46) (80) (35) (72)

Notes: The total sample was 1,350; sample sizes are given in parentheses.
Source: See the text.

compensate for the decline in male earnings but seemed to suffer more,
so that family incomes fell by a larger percentage. By the 1840s the
employment of women and children in mining was much reduced—and
with it the ability to respond to falling male earnings by increasing family
participation. Outworkers' families, too, by this point may have for-
feited some of the resources that had provided a basis for a flexible
response to industrial downturn. Poor relief may have been less
available to cover short-term declines in industrial incomes after the
New Poor Law of 1834. Artisans' family incomes also fell more than did
the earnings of adult males; and factory workers' family incomes were
Nominal male earnings and family incomes for nonagricultural fami-
lies did not march in step throughout industrialization. Family incomes
lagged behind male earnings in the Napoleonic wars, suggesting that
860 Horrell and Humphries

calculations that have shown male earnings keeping pace with price
inflation have underestimated the pressures that some families experi-
enced. Family incomes fared better than male earnings throughout the
postwar slump, so judgments about welfare based on the latter may be
too harsh. In the twenties and thirties however, male earnings' growth
for several fortunate groups overestimates the gains for their families, as
many miners' and tradesmens' families became more dependent on
their male head. That pattern left them vulnerable to privation when the
industrial crisis in the forties carried male earnings down. On the other
hand, in the twenties and thirties factory textile workers' and outwork-
ers' family income growth ran ahead of male earnings—only to experi-
ence stagnation or sharp decline in the "hungry forties." The pattern of
family incomes lagging behind as male earnings expanded is repeated
again at the end of the era for miners and artisans, but factory workers'
family incomes increased more than their male earnings did. These
differences in experience mean that any "average" view depends on the
occupational weights used to combine the individual series.
In the early and later periods high-wage agricultural family incomes
moved in step with male earnings. But in between, income growth
appears to have hinged on the industrial employment of other family
members. Rapid growth in income from 1791/95 to 1831/35 gave way to
adverse industrial conditions in the forties. In the low-wage counties,
family incomes increased more than did male earnings from 1787/90 to
1796/1800, perhaps as a result of poor relief to families whose heads'
earnings increased by only 8 percent in nominal terms despite rapid
wartime inflation. Again, from 1796/1800 to the 1830s, male earnings
declined in nominal terms while family incomes increased by about 20
percent. Evidence of widespread southern rural unemployment of
women and children suggests that this increase in family income was
most likely a consequence of the operation of the Old Poor Law: a
hypothesis that gains some support from a closer look at sources of
income.32 Note that with the New Poor Law, male earnings increased
more than did family incomes (from 1831/35 to 1836/40), suggesting that
the withdrawal of poor law subsidies created upward pressure on male
earnings. The higher growth of family incomes compared with male
earnings at the end of the period in the low-wage counties suggests an
increased employment of laborers' wives and children, which some
authors have argued was the eventual result of the New Poor Law. 33
Over the whole period, both high- and low-wage agricultural laborers'
nominal male earnings increased less than their family incomes did.
Low-wage agricultural families, in particular, faced stagnating male
See Horrell a n d H u m p h r i e s , " 'Neither Welcome nor Understood' " a n d " M a l e Earnings
Estimates from Household Accounts."
See Burnett, Plenty and Want, p. 28.
Families' Living Standards, 1787-1865 861

earnings for much of the period. The stronger performance of their

family incomes was probably a prerequisite for their survival and
How can we interpret these findings? Like the male earnings data, the
family income data emphasize the discontinuities of the growth process.
But perhaps optimists can take heart from the fact that for some groups,
such as low-wage agricultural laborers and factory workers, family
income growth exceeded male earnings growth for the period as a
whole. Pessimists, on the other hand, can point to miners and artisans,
for whom the opposite was true.34 In a later section we will summarize
these rather disparate results into an index of family income to compare
with male earnings and price changes in an attempt to give some
indication of the "average" family experience. But we conclude this
section with a summary of these trends using regression analysis, which
allows us to isolate the time trends from intercase variation in family
Equations tracing the proximate determinants of male earnings and
family incomes estimated on annual data for the period as a whole are
reported in Table 4. The dependency ratio (number of nonworkers
divided by number in household) is included in the equation for male
earnings as a proxy for the husband/father's age: dependency is highest
early in the family's history, when younger fathers have a number of
small children. But the dependency ratio may also reflect the ability of
men to support their families or the economic compulsion for other
family members to earn. The number of workers in the family is
included as a determinant of family income. More than half the variation
in family income and over 40 percent of the variation in male earnings
is explained by occupationally specific time trends and the summary
statistics of household composition.
High-wage agricultural laborers' and outworkers' earnings followed a
wavelike pattern: increasing through the war years, falling back there-
after, and then increasing again at the end of the period. Nominal
earnings of tradesmen and agricultural laborers in low-wage counties
declined initially but increased thereafter (though at different rates);
casual workers' earnings turned up only much later, in the mid-1820s.
Miners' nominal earnings increased continually. These time trends are
independent of trends in the dependency ratio. With some minor
changes in the turning points, they occur in (unreported) regressions run
Note in any case that the welfare implications are not transparent, because we do not know
whether the wage rates faced by other family members or their hours of work were increasing or
decreasing. Although it might seem reasonable to interpret increasing activity as "voluntary," we
cannot make a similar assumption about declining activity, given allegations about burgeoning
institutional discrimination. See Horrell and Humphries, " 'Neither Welcome nor Understood.' "
Here we are only concerned with whether growth rates in male earnings under- or overstate growth
rates of family incomes.
862 Horrell and Humphries
Male Earnings Regression
Constant Time Time2 Time3
Low-wage agriculture 12.81 (9.7)* -0.11 (1.5) 0.003 (2.8)*
High-wage agriculture — 0.85 (3.3)* -0.02(1.9) 0.0001 (1.5)
Mining 9.54 (3.0)* 0.24 (3.2)* .
Factory 30.75(3.1)* -0.61 (1.4)* — 0.0002(1.9)
Outwork — 0.65 (4.6)* -0.02 (3.6)* 0.0001 (3.0)*
Trades 14.58 (7.7)* 0.0002 (1.9)
Casual 30.15(1.9) -1.80(1.8) 0.02(1.5) —
Dependency ratio 8.98 (5.68)*
R (adjusted) = 0.43; sample size = 868

Family Income Regression

Constant Time Time2 Time3

Low-wage agriculture -3.53 (1.6) 1.47(5.7)* -0.04 (5.9)* 0.0003 (6.2)*
High-wage agriculture — 0.58 (3.7)* -0.006 (2.6)*
Mining — 0.73 (15.4)* — —
Factory -1.96(0.2) 4.24 (3.3)* -0.14(3.0)* 0.001 (1.5)
Outwork — 0.51 (4.6)* -0.007 (3.7)*
Trades 8.6 (2.3)** — 0.008 (4.6)* —
Number of workers 8.33 (22.6)*

R2 (adjusted) = 0.55; sample size = 1,024

* = significant at the 1 percent level.
** = significant at the 5 percent level.
Notes: The absolute f-ratio is shown in parentheses. Time, Time2, and Time3 are cubic time trends.
All occupational variables are relative to low-wage agriculture.
Source: Household budget data; see the text.

on the whole sample of husband-wife households, which excludes the

dependency ratio as an explanatory variable.35 Only in the case of
factory workers does including the dependency ratio change the esti-
mated time trend—and this is a result of the selection of a subsample for
which the dependency ratio is available rather than of the inclusion of
the dependency ratio as an explanatory variable.
Incomes also follow a wavelike pattern, peaking toward the end of the
war years, declining to the forties and fifties, and then increasing again
at the end of the period for families of low- and high-wage agricultural
laborers, outworkers, and casual laborers. Family incomes generally
Given the positive correlation between the dependency ratio and male earnings, if the
dependency ratio were increasing (decreasing) through time it would have the effects of raising
(lowering) the time trend. Including the variable in the equation would then reduce (raise) the time
trend. Consequently the effect of including the dependency ratio on the slope of the earnings curve
can be used to make inferences about trends in the dependency ratio. The details are reported in
Horrell and Humphries, "Demographic Characteristics of Husband-Wife Households."
Families' Living Standards, 1787—1865 863

increased throughout the period for mine workers and artisans. Again,
only in the case of factory workers does including the number of
workers change the pattern of variation of family income over time—
and this is, as before, because of sample selection rather than the
inclusion of the number of workers per household in the equation. Again
comparisons of turning points estimated from regressions that include
the number of workers per household and those that exclude this
variable can be used to infer changes in family composition.36
Thus, though the dependency ratio and the number of workers per
family changed over time in some occupations, and though their impact
is discernible in the comparisons of turning points in the curves
estimated without the demographic variables and those estimated with
them as a dependent variables, the time trends themselves are not
products of variation in family composition.

Cross-sectional patterns of male earnings by occupation are predict-
able: artisans, miners, and factory operatives head the ranking; out-
workers and agricultural laborers lag behind. Cross-sectional patterns in
family incomes, in general, follow those found in male earnings.
Moreover, as is immediately apparent in Tables 1 to 3, the occupations
that were better paid in the 1790s by and large enjoyed higher growth
rates in their earnings to the midcentury, which is consistent with the
increasing skill premia that Williamson has argued underpinned widen-
ing inequality.37
The coefficient of variation summarizes the evidence on the occupa-
tional dispersions of earnings and incomes for quinquennia in which a
range of occupations was represented (see Table 5). Although we found
no sign of declining inequality during the French wars, the evidence for
male earnings is consistent with Williamson's claim that there was
increasing inequality from Waterloo to the 1840s. The household
distributions of male earnings, summarized by the Gini coefficients,
exhibit the same pattern. The occupational dispersion of family incomes
also increased until the slump of the forties. The Gini coefficients
summarizing the household distributions of incomes also suggest in-
creasing inequality, at least until 1841/45.
But this is not the whole story, for although in general differentials
widened, changes in the rank order of different occupations and in the
relationships between family income and men's earnings within occu-
Given t h e positive correlation between t h e number of workers a n d family income, if t h e
number of workers w a s increasing (decreasing) through time it would have t h e efFect of raising
(lowering) the time trend. Including the variable in the equation would then reduce (raise) the time
trend. Consequently t h e effect of including t h e number of workers o n t h e slope of the earnings
curve can be used t o make inferences about parallel trends in the number of workers per family.
Williamson, British Capitalism, chap. 4.
864 Horrell and Humphries
Coefficient of Variation Gini Coefficient
Male Family Male Family
Years Earnings Income Earnings Income
1791-1795 21.2 17.2 0.12 0.11
1816-1820 31.0" 27.9" 0.13a 0.18"
1831-1835 39.4 40.3
1836-1840 45.0 48.9 0.24 0.25
1841-1845 34.3 42.0 0.19 0.21
Low-wage agricultural earnings were estimated at high-wage agriculture divided by 1.2 (from
Hunt, "Industrialization and Regional Inequality," pp. 965-56).
Low-wage agricultural income was estimated at high-wage agriculture divided by 1.1 (from ratios
in Table 3).
Note: The occupational weights used for calculation of the Gini coefficients are given in note 40.
Sources: See Tables 1 and 3 and note 40.

pations occurred, with implications for inequality. Compare the rank

orders of occupations by male earnings and family incomes at the
beginning and end of the period.38 Only mining has the same rank for
both male earnings and family income in 1791/95. Two of the three
lowest-paid occupations, high- and low-wage agriculture, had family
incomes that reduced their rank, but the bottom ranking according to
male earnings—outworkers—moves to the middle when family incomes
are considered. Including family incomes also pushes the ranks of the
top male earners down and those of the middle-range male earners up.
Therefore, other family members' contributions and welfare subsidies
appear to have mitigated male earnings differentials, at least across
nonagricultural occupations, in this period. But by 1841/45 ranks for the
top groups were the same for both male earnings and family incomes
(with minor changes between the three lowest-paid groups), suggesting
that the work opportunities for, and earnings capacities of, the wives
and children of well-paid men were relatively favorable and that there
was less scope for other sources of family income to offset relatively low
male earnings. By this time family responses appear to widen the
differentials observable in male pay. Outworkers constitute an excep-
The following figures, showing the ranking of male earnings and family incomes by occupa-
tion, are taken from Tables 1 and 2.
High-wage Low-wage
Agriculture Agriculture Mining Factory Outwork Trades Casual

Male earnings 5 6 3 4 7 1 2
Family income 6 7 3 1 . 5 2 4
Male earnings 4 6 2 1 7 3 5
Family income 4 6 2 1 5 3 7
Families' Living Standards, 1787—1865 865

tion, continuing to rank higher in terms of family income than in terms

of male earnings. This suggests that women and children whose
husbands and fathers were stockingers, or handloom weavers, or
nailers, managed to compensate for low adult male earnings by their
own employment. This ability to mitigate the impact of low and
deteriorating male earnings contributes to the explanation of the persis-
tence of employment in occupations with such a dismal record as
handloom weaving.39
Comparing the summary statistics of occupational dispersions of male
earnings with those of family incomes supports the idea that whereas
initially families' responses reduced the inequality implicit in the
distribution of male earnings, subsequently they acted to increase the
dispersion of family income in comparison with male earnings. In
1791/95, the dispersion of family incomes was less than for male
earnings, and this remained true through the slump of 1816/20. But in the
thirties and forties, family income dispersion became greater than male
earnings dispersion, suggesting that declining subsidies to the families of
low-paid agricultural workers and the fading ability of family members
to offset the low earnings of male outworkers increased family differ-
entials relative to those in male earnings. We have already argued that
in 1841/45 family incomes fared worse than male earnings. The evidence
on inequality suggests that this was more important in certain poorly
paid occupations—for example, casual workers—where it had the effect
of widening the dispersion of family income relative to male earnings,
than it was in well-paid jobs where relative decline of family income
would have compacted the distribution relative to that of male earnings.
Relative changes in the household distributions of family incomes and
male earnings tell a similar story. Starting from almost the same level of
inequality, family income inequality increased more rapidly than in-
equality in men's earnings during industrialization. Although the "hun-
gry forties" reduced inequality, it was a reduction of 21 percent for male
earnings but only 16 percent for family incomes, which were left more
unequally distributed than were male earnings. Thus throughout indus-
trialization differences between subgroups of the working class became
more apparent and there was more inequality among families than
comparisons of male earnings distributions would suggest.


Given the variety of income experience, trends in our series for all
households and all working households are unlikely to be representa-
tive, as they are based on the sample and not on population occupational
distribution. What really happened to average household income obvi-
For supporting evidence see Lyons, "Family Response."
866 Horrell and Humphries

ously depends on the relative numbers of families in each occupational

group over time.
Using employment weights calculated from standard sources, we
calculated average nominal incomes and earnings for years in which
information for a sufficient range of occupations was available.40 The
occupational categories cover 67 to 75 percent of contemporary occu-
pied males. As can be seen from Table 6, although representative
nominal earnings and incomes increased from 1791/95 to 1850 (about 73
percent for earnings and 53 percent for income), growth was slow
through the Napoleonic wars, interrupted in the 1830s for male earnings
and in the 1840s for both earnings and incomes. In nominal terms, family
income had not got back to the levels achieved in 1836/40 by the end of
the period.
Our indices of male earnings and family incomes can be compared
with indices of nominal wages (Table 6), though caution must be
exercised in interpretation given the differences in benchmark years and
among earnings, incomes, and wages. From 1791/95 to 1846/50, our
male earnings series exhibits higher growth than any other wage series,
though it is not much higher than Lindert and Williamson's "all workers
series" or Phelps Brown and Hopkins's "building laborers." Our more
rapid growth derives from the relatively high male earnings that we
recorded for 1846/50. Measuring growth to 1841/45 brings our estimates
much closer to P. Deane and W. Cole's and to G. H. Wood's.
Alternatively, taking 1860/65 as the end period also produces growth
rates that fit well with the classic estimates. But although our overall
growth rates are similar to both the growth rates implicit in the classic
indices and those in Lindert and Williamson's series (if allowances are
made for differences in benchmark years), the same cannot be said for
the traditional subperiods of the Industrial Revolution. Our male
earnings series grows more slowly than other estimates from the 1790s
to 1820 and more rapidly from 1820 to midcentury. These differences
originate in the sensitivity of our estimates to the drop in male earnings
The male employment weights were calculated from Deane and Cole, British Economic
Growth, p. 143; Mitchell and Deane, British Historical Statistics, p. 60; and Lindert, "English
Occupations," pp. 702-4. For 1801 and 1811, we combined Deane and Cole's industrial distribution
of the labor force with Lindert's distribution of the male labor force in England and Wales to obtain
the percentage of males employed in each of our occupational categories. We assumed the number
of casual workers to be one-quarter of the number found in trades, proportions that held in 1831.
For 1831 we used Mitchell and Deane's male labor force estimates, subdividing trade, manufac-
turing, and handicrafts by the same ratios as were found for 1841. We adopted Mitchell and
Deane's male occupations from the census returns to get our data for 1841 to 1871. The weights for
the groups under consideration were constrained to sum to unity and, when applied to Lindert and
Williamson's wage data for the same occupational categories, resulted in an index of average wages
almost identical to their blue-collar index (Lindert and Williamson, "English Workers' Living
Standards"). The occupational weights were interpolated to give midquinquennium weights.
Agricultural employment was divided into high- and low-wage jobs, in the ratio 30.8 to 69.2 found
in the 1841 census (see Lee, British Regional Employment).
Families' Living Standards, 1787—1865 867

during the downturn of 1816/20 and should perhaps caution us against

using this quinquennia as a benchmark in the periodization of earnings
Our index for nominal family income can be compared most usefully
with those of Deane and Cole and of Wood (on which Deane and Cole's
index was based).41 Wood used some of the same sources as we have
drawn on to construct his index, and, although he did not explicitly state
this, it appears that his average money wages did not refer solely to men
but also included the wages of women and children—thus linking his
figures with our family income series.42 Although our family income
series starts off lower than Deane and Cole's and Wood's series,
throughout the period there is clearly some comparability, and growth
rates for the whole period are not dissimilar.
The differences arise from two main factors. Again we are picking up
a downturn in 1816/20 of greater magnitude than was found in these
series, and we emphasize household incomes whereas Wood considers
money wages but does not weight them to take account of the changing
structure of the labor force.43 As women and children enter the labor
force our family income index will grow whereas average money wages
will fall; as they exit the labor force the opposite will occur, if male wage
rates remain unaltered. From our earlier discussion we would expect (1)
the increased participation of family members to result in the family
income index being higher than the money wages index in 1816/20, (2)
lessened opportunities for family members to offset the 1841/45 decline
to push down family incomes by more than money wages, and (3) the
withdrawal of women and children from the labor force up to the 1860s
to leave our family income index below the money wages index. The
more discernible slump in our male wages in 1816/20 makes the first
hypothesis difficult to test; but for the latter two periods the hypotheses
are supported, which instills confidence both in our data and in our
earlier explanations of the changes in family incomes.
Family incomes show distinctly faster growth than do male earnings
up to 1820 and slower growth subsequently, again emphasizing the
offsetting and exacerbating effects, respectively, of family employment
responses to the fall in male earnings in each of the slumps. Family
incomes increased less than did male earnings over the whole period,
thus decreasing the magnitude of any improvement in standards of
living found from real earnings series based on male wages alone. In any
case nominal growth was relatively low—around 0.63 percent per
Deane and Cole, British Economic Growth, chap. 1; and Wood, " T h e Course of Average
The only clue to this in his article is the statement that "for L o n d o n w e r e found figures for 26
separate workmen. . . . In Manchester about 220 workpeople a r e m e n t i o n e d . " W o o d , " T h e
Course of Average W a g e s , " p . 589 [emphasis added].
Note that our data set includes a large number of unpublished budgets for 1816 to 1820, which
Wood did not use in his series; also, it registers the recession in the forties as being of similar depth
in nominal terms a s does W o o d ' s index.
TABLE 6 00
(1840 =
Horrell & Humphries Deane &Cole 100) Lindert & Williamson Phelps Brown & Hopkins
(1836/45 = 100) (1840 = 100) (1851 = 100) (1810/46 - 100)
Male Family All agricultural Blue-collar All Building Building
Years Earnings Income Years Workers Laborers Workers Workers Years Laborers Craftsmen
1790 70 72 1791-1793 64.1
1791-1795 71.1 66.1 1795 82 82 1791-1796 67.7
1797 74.4 59.0 1793-1798 68.8
1796-1800 78.2 78.8 1800 95 93 1796-1800 75.0
1815 106.2 85.3 1799-1802 71.9
1816 117 115
1819 101.8 84.4
1816-1820 83.9 86.9 1820 110 109 1
1831 101 103
1831-1835 72.7 89.2 1835
1836-1840 104.4 100 100 94.1 88.8
111.1 1840
1841-1845 95.6 88.9 1845 98 99 1810-1846 100.0 100.0
1846-1850 123.0 100.8 1850 100 102 1847-1852 103.1 102.1 3"
1851 1853-1860 112.5
1860-1865 122.0 102.6 1860 115 116 100.0 100.0- 1853-1865 106.3
1861-1864 — 116.7
Growth Rate (% per annum)

1791/95-1841/45 0.59 0.59 0.53 0.51 0.89 0.78

1791/95-1846/50 1.00 0.77 0.48 0.49 0.55" 0.98" 0.87 0.75
1791/95-1860/65 0.77 0.63 0.64 0.63 0.77 0.78
1791/95-1816/20 0.66 1.10 1.62 1.51 1.69° 1.83"
1816/20-1841/45 0.52 0.09 0.55 -0.47
1816/20-1846/50 1.28 0.50 0.45 -0.36 -0.12 0.48
TABLE 6—continued
" Data are from 1797 to end dates.
Notes: Horirell and Humphries's indices have bases of £34.20 for male earnings and £50.26 for family income in 1836/45. Average male earnings
and family incomes were calculated using the occupational employment weights in note 40. In 1796-1800 outworkers' earnings were assumed to
represent both outworkers' and casual workers' earnings, and trades earnings were assumed to represent factory, mining, and trades. In 1816-1820
low-wage agricultural earnings were assumed to be high-wage agricultural earnings divided by 1.2, from Hunt, and low-wage agricultural family
incomes to be high-wage agricultural incomes divided by 1.1, based on the ratios in Table 3. From the previous figures, low-wage agricultural
earnings lay between those from outwork and casual work, so were used to represent both those groups in 1846-1850. High-wage agricultural
earnings were assumed to be 1.2 times low-wage agricultural male earnings and 1.1 times low-wage agricultural family incomes in 1846-1850. In
1860-1865 outwork earnings were used to represent casual work; for trades the figure for 1854 was used and assumed to represent male earnings
in factories, mining, and trades; family incomes from factory work were used to represent family incomes for both factory work and mining.
Sources: Tables 1 and 3 and note 40; Deane and Cole, British Economic Growth, p. 23; Wood, "The Course of Average Wages," p. 591; Lindert
and Williamson, "English Workers' Living Standards," p. 7; Phelps Brown and Hopkins, "Seven Centuries of Building Wages," p. 205; and Hunt,
"Industrialization and Regional Inequality," pp. 965-66.

870 Horrell and Humphries
(1791-1795 = 100)
Male Real Earnings Deflated by Family Real Income Deflated by
Lindert & Williamson's Crafts's Smith Lindert & Williamson's Crafts's Smith
Revised "Best Guess" Food Weights Revised "Best Guess" Food Weights
Years Index Index Index Index
1791-1795 100.0 100,0 100.0 100.0
1796-1800 83.8 91.8 90.1 99.5
1816-1820 90.1 91.3 100.4 101.6
1831-1835 109.7 95.1 144.6 125.3
1836-1840 143.0 135.5 163.6 155.0
1841-1845 146.1 129.6 146.1 129.5
1846-1850 195.4 184.2 172.2 162.2
Notes: The price indices used are five-year averages from Lindert and Williamson's revised "best
guess" cost-of-living index and Crafts's index, which is only given at decade intervals, interpolated
to midquinquennium.
Sources: For nominal average earnings and incomes, see Table 6; Lindert and Williamson,
"English Workers' Real Wages," p. 148; and Crafts, "English Workers' Real Wages," p. 142.

annum—so that any substantial gain in living standards during industri-

alization depends on what happened to prices: a familiar conclusion.
Lindert and Williamson's nominal wage series is, in fact, not very
different from earlier series. Their more dramatic conclusions come
from the substantial differences in the cost-of-living index used to take
account of price changes.44 Similarly, our growth rates in nominal
earnings for the period as a whole are in the same range as the Lindert
and Williamson figures, though our intraperiod growth rates depart from
established views in predictable ways. These similarities and differences
will be apparent in our real earnings and income series, insofar as they
deploy the same price deflators as are used to establish real-wage
We have used two alternative cost-of-living indices to deflate nominal
family incomes and male earnings, as shown in Table 7: Lindert and
Williamson's revised "best guess" index (LW) and Crafts's index using
Smith's food weights (CR).45 The standard of living estimates based on
those price indices vary considerably, showing the importance of the
choice of price deflator. Compared with other standard indices of real
wages, our male earnings series dip lower during, and take longer to
recover from, the Napoleonic wars. But, in common with other indices,
our figures imply substantial gains by midcentury.
Not surprisingly, given the relationships manifest in the nominal data
and the use of identical deflators, the growth of our real earnings index
from 1791/95 to 1846/50 is higher than the growth of either the Lindert
and Williamson blue-collar index or Crafts's real-wage index, as shown
For a similar view, see Crafts, British Economic Growth, p. 99.
Lindert and Williamson, "English Workers' Real Wages"; and Crafts, "English Workers'
Real Wages."
Families' Living Standards, 1787—1865 871

(percentage per annum)

Horrell & Humphries

Male Earnings Family Income Lindert &
Deflated by Deflated by Williamson's
Revised Crafts's Crafts's
Lindert & Lindert & Blue-collar Real Per Capita
Years Williamson Crafts Williamson Crafts Index Earnings Consumption
1791/95 to 0.76 0.52 0.76 0.52
1791/95 to 1.23 1.12 0.99 0.88 1.02" 0.80 s 0.80"
1791/95 to -0.41 -0.36 0.02 0.06 0.32" 0.71 b 0.47"
1816/20 to 2.61 2.37 1.81 1.57 1.87C 0.94 c 1.24C
1816/20 to 1.95 1.41 1.51 0.98 — — —
For 1780 to 1851.
For 1780 to 1821.
F o r 1821 to 1851.
Sources: Horrell and Humphries, see Table 7; Lindert and Williamson, "English Workers' Real
Wages," p. 148; and Crafts, "English Workers' Real Wages," pp. 142-43.

in Table 8. Measuring growth from 1791/95 to 1841/45 brings our

estimate of male earnings growth into line with the others' figures. But
substantial differences remain between the established views and our
evidence on the intraperiod growth rates, reflecting the strong differ-
ences in the nominal figures. In real terms our male earnings actually
decline when measured to 1816/20 and consequently grow more rapidly
than other indices from the end of the French wars. 46
The comparison of real male earnings and family incomes follows the
nominal story. Family incomes deflated by either the LW index or the
CR index show lower overall growth rates than the parallel real earnings
series. But resilience at the end of the French wars prevents family
income growth from becoming negative in the first subperiod, when
male earnings actually decline, whereas from 1816/20 family income
growth lags behind growth in real earnings.
Crafts has argued that, to be plausible, real income gains should be in
line with real per capita consumption growth estimated from indepen-
dent sources. Such a test is problematical both for the Lindert and
Williamson blue-collar series, which runs ahead of consumption growth
overall and in the second subperiod but lags behind it in the first, and for
But note that Crafts himself acknowledged that the 1820s were a notorious period of very high
unemployment in the face of postwar adjustment and falling prices, whereas 1850 was a time of
relatively full employment. In his view, allowing for unemployment would "perhaps indicate a
growth rate of real earnings of around 0.55 per cent per year for 1780-1820 and 1.2 per cent per year
for 1820-1850" (Crafts, British Economic Growth, p. 104). The arithmetic behind these revisions is
not elaborated.
872 Horrell and Humphries

the Crafts index, which suggests substantial wage gains compared with
consumption growth in the first subperiod (Table 8). Because of the
changing importance of income from other sources to family living
standards, real gains in household incomes should be closer to per
capita consumption increases than gains in male earnings. As deflated
by the CR index, real family incomes grew at .88 percent from the 1790s
to 1850, which is close to Crafts's estimate of per capita consumption
growth for 1780 to 1851. It is particularly troublesome for the Crafts
real-wage index that consumption growth in the first subperiod is so
much less than growth in male earnings, because it seems unlikely that
working-class income gains were not spent. Our relatively low estimates
of family income growth up to the end of the French wars cast light on
this: if earnings and income growth were interrupted by a period of
under- and unemployment, this may help to explain an otherwise
puzzling pattern. For the second subperiod our family income growth is
as close or closer to the growth of consumption than is either index of
real wages. So, although questions about the correspondence between
consumption trends and trends in income and earnings remain, evidence
of the variation in family incomes may prove important in reconciling
apparently disparate developments.47


Our investigation of trends in male earnings and family incomes as

revealed by surviving family budgets has cast new light on the standard
of living debate: supporting the received wisdom on a number of points;
questioning certain conventional conclusions; and establishing the fam-
ily-based perspective as a useful supplement to the study of male wages.
Our evidence supports the view that fairly substantial gains in material
standards were achieved over the course of industrialization by the
British working class. But there are caveats. Earnings and income
growth were far from continuous, and the severity of interruptions and
even setbacks in material progress has been underestimated by analyses
based on trends in relatively static wage rates. Progress was also
crucially dependent on movements in the cost of living, and questions
still abound regarding the speed with which price falls fed through to the
working class. Our comparison of earnings and income trends also;
shades the optimistic consensus. For the period as a whole family
incomes grew less than did male earnings, so welfare gains imputed
from the latter may overstate actual improvements. Investigation of
family incomes has also revealed that industrialization brought with it
greater inequality among families than has been previously assumed or
indicated by trends in male wage differentials.
For a recent, more pessimistic, view of trends in consumption, see Moykr, "Is There Still
Families' Living Standards, 1787—1865 873

During industrialization, family responses to the vagaries of male

employment changed. Families in several occupations were no longer
able to supplement income when nominal male earnings were swept
down—for example, in 1841/45. Indeed, it appears that women's and
children's earnings and employment were hit hardest in this slump, and
that their ability to contribute to family income never regained its former
importance. It proportionately declined from then on, though the time
path of increasing dependence varied according to occupation.48
For our families it mattered a great deal whether they were dependent
on a husband/father, whether other family members also had employ-
ment, whether the security and earnings of those jobs varied directly or
inversely with the security and earnings of the male head of household,
and whether there were other nonwage sources of income. The "border
ground between the provinces of domestic and public economy" indeed
deserves attention—not simply to avoid "more general and abstract
speculations," but because it was where the standard of living rose or
These arguments are developed in Horrell and Humphries, " 'Neither Welcome nor Un-
derstood.' "


The household and earnings information used in this article come from a larger data
set, in which details on household composition, expenditure, and income for 1,781
observations are recorded. We found 198 budgets for 1787/99, 586 for 1810/19, 20 for
1820/29, 474 for 1830/39, 157 for 1840/49, 11 for 1850/59, 328 for 1860/69, and 7 for the
1870s. Figure 1 shows the distribution of the budgets by county and decade. The broad
occupational breakdown for heads of household is as follows: agriculture, 571; mining
and metalworkers, 110; textile factory workers, 251; outworkers (including handloom
weavers, glove and stocking makers, silk weavers, framework knitters, winders,
sewers, combers, shoemakers, tailors, and nailers), 612; trades (compositors, cutlers,
carpenters, glaziers, masons, blacksmiths, millers, sawyers, coopers, carters, ostlers,
spectacle framers, clerks, and teachers), 58; casual and laboring jobs (railroad and road
builders, dockyard workers, and travelers), 42. In all, 72 were not working, generally
because of sickness, and 65 did not have their occupation classified.
Some detail on the budgets obtained from each source is given in the listings below.
The notation used in parentheses is as follows: the original source, if applicable; number
of budgets; year of budgets; county; occupation of head of household (most represen-
tative where a number of occupations are covered in the same source); and information
given (abbreviated as M = matched for same household for two years, I = ideal budget
with either suggested expenditure matched to earnings or detailing earnings necessary to
cover a reasonable level of expenditure for family size, C = composition of household
detailed, X = expenditure detailed, RX = work expenses detailed with remainder left
for food, SX = some expenditure detailed, IE = earnings of each individual given,
874 Horrell and Humphries

1787 - 1799
I D 1810 - 1 8 1 9
I 5 0 \ A 1820 - 1 8 2 9
7 Q / 1 1 V\ o 1830 •1839
SD 2A A 1840 - 1 6 4 9
4 O / y\ iNonhumberlandX • 1850 - 1 8 5 9
2A •-decs / -—-A A 1860 - 1 8 6 9
Scotland ^12Cl\ « 1870
4 A \
/ Cumberland /~^ 2 A \ 3 Number of budgets
1 O Durham V/~"^^
1 A
( r^f^
% A
\\ }/Westmorland/) 1*
^ \
1 D
\ C \ n Cl Yorkshire V _ ^
North Riding . — - ^ 7
Unspecified J7581Q 6Q\ / 15 A f
rf lOi ' D \ \ Yorkshire \
P 144 O \ 14 O I / Easing \
io A VI ^ > \
^ > 35
1m IB M ^ ^ ^—\ ^
/ 82

Yorkshire f~^ ^~
West Riding /

( jiy-^^tre J
\ 2 4 ^JNottinghanv >/

/ (^ Chester ^ — - S—
Q/Derby\ ^ ^ { 2Q
S U ^'-shire \ / \ , o 9 O
\ Nort,Wales \ f ? • {/~^~^ >1 A > 2A
V ^ i2 O \ - 1» 5-^Leicestershirecftutianrt ^-^/ \
4 •
/> /
f .'r
1 A / Y \ 2Q X > \ / Norfolk
\ 43A ^ ^ {^C^
V - ^ ) Shropshire A v
. 5A \3 A / ^ /HunT\\ 3 O1 '
)12A, >orthamp«.n/"'gdon 2 *

6 A
/ / ^TT^Worcester 1•
/ I \ 2 A L^iJ;o? 7 ^ / imbrids

2 A
/ 5 A \
4 O [ Hereford I ^ ~ ^ -

s .
South Wales J \ f
J J (Oxford
l 2 A C ^ H e r t s
\ ' Q \ Gloucestershire) -^l " \ B u c k s \ i o T
2 A
£ ^ MonmoumU /=\7ia^7
\ 1 O \ J VWO47A~^-^
V , \i D , i —

^ _ X ^ A 3O ^Jer^Mid.esex• c
5 J Ken
1 2

^\- ^Somersel
4 ,S 17 A ;
w ^ , 1eAA >^ ( e ^ L 2
-v /
6 O
V-v 1 • _ / " __.
% I ^ Solon / Sussex 2A > - /
3O ^ - - . / l i Q 3 A '
12 A V ^ " ^ 1 *
/ \ A. ^v. ~_
JI Devon ^ ^ D o r s e l 7 A <
/ JSv^i/> ^—^-

2 I1



TE = total earnings of household given, and ETE = total earnings taken from elsewhere
in the same source).

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878 Horrell and Humphries


High-wage Low-wage
Years Agriculture Agriculture Mining Factory Outwork Trades Casual
1787/90 6.1 5.8
1791/95 6.3 6.2 7.5 3.0 6.0 6.4 5.0
1796/1800 6.5 2.0 6.8 7.0
1806/10 6.0 6.0
1811/15 — 5.0 6.0 6.0
1816/20 6.5 — 7.1 6.4 6.7 6.5 5.0
1821/25 — — 5.0 6.0
1826/30 4.0 5.5
1831/35 6.6 5.2 8.0 9.0 7.1 6.3 6.0
1836/40 6.3 5.7 8.5 5.6 6.8 6.4 5.7
1841/45 7.5 6.9 5.7 6.2 6.0 9.0 5.0
1846/50 — 4.5 6.0 3.3
1851/55 — — 5.3 —
1860/65 5.1 6.3 — 6.6 5.7 — —
Note: The total sample size was 1,324.
Source: Household budget data set; see the text.

High-wage Low-wage
Years Agriculture Agriculture Mining Factory Outwork Trades Casual
1787/90 2.3 2.6 3.7
1791/95 2.0 2.8 1.8 3.0 3.3 2.9 2.0
1796/1800 2.5 2.0 4.0 4.0
1806/10 3.0 3.0
1811/15 — 1.0 3.0 2.9
1816/20 2.3 — 2.6 2.6 2.8 2.3 2.0
1821/25 — — 1.0 — 3.2
1826/30 — 2.0 — — 1.6 — —
1831/35 4.7 2.5 1.0 5.5 3.3 2.0 2.2
1836/40 2.5 3.0 3.3 2.8 3.2 2.3 3.1
1841/45 2.5 2.8 2.2 5.5 3.5 1.0
1846/50 1.0 1.0 4.4 1.0
1851/55 — 2.0
1860/65 1.0 1.1 — — 1.6 — —
Note: The total sample size was 1,014.
Source: Household budget data set; see the text.

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