Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Pessimism Perpetuated: Real Wages and the Standard of Living in Britain during and after the Industrial Revolution

  • Charles H. Feinstein (a1)

New estimates of nominal earnings and the cost of living are presented and used to make a fresh assessment of changes in the real earnings of male and female manual workers in Britain from 1770 to 1870. Workers' average real earnings are then adjusted for factors such as unemployment, the number of their dependants, and the costs of urbanization. The main finding is that the standard of living of the average working-class family improved by less than 15 percent between the 1780s and 1850s. This long plateau is shown to be consistent with other economic, political, and demographic indicators.

Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Gregory, Michael Huberman Clark , and Peter H. Lindert . “A British Food Puzzle, 1770–1850.” Economic History Review 48, no.2 (1995): 215–37.

E. J. T. Collins Harvest Technology and Labour Supply in Britain, 1790–1870.” Economic History Review 22, no.3 (1969): 453–73.

N.F.R. Crafts British Economic Growth, 1700–1850; Some Difficulties of Interpretation.” Explorations in Economic History 24, no.3 (1987): 245–68.

N. F. R. Crafts Regional Price Variations in England in 1843: An Aspect of the Standard of Living Debate.” Explorations in Economic History 19, no.1 (1982): 5170.

N. F. R. Crafts Some Dimensions of the ‘Quality of Life’ during the British Industrial Revolution.” Economic History Review 50, no.4 (1997): 617–39.

Charles H. Feinstein New Estimates of Average Earnings in the United Kingdom, 1880–1913.” Economic History Review 43, no.4 (1990): 595632

Michael W. Flinn Trends in Real Wages, 1750–1850.” Economic History Review 27, no.3 (1974): 395414.

N. Gash , “Rural Unemployment, 1815–34.” Economic History Review 1st ser., 6 (19351936): 9093.

Elizabeth W. Gilboy The Cost of Living and Real wages in Eighteenth Century England.” Review of Economic Statistics 18 (1936): 134–43.

Eric Hopkins . “Working Hours and Conditions during the Industrial Revolution: a Re-Appraisal.” Economic History Review 35, no.1 (1982): 5266.

R.V. Jackson The Heights of Rural-born English Female Convicts Transported to New South Wales.” Economic History Review 49, no.3 (1996): 584–90.

Paul Johnson , and Stephen Nicholas . “Male and Female Living Standards in England and Wales, 1812–1857: Evidence from Criminal Height Records.” Economic History Review 48, no.3 (1995): 470–81.

Eric L. Jones The Agricultural Labour Market in England, 1793–1872.” Economic History Review 17, no.2 (1964): 322–38.

C. P. Kindleberger Europe's Postwar Growth, The Role of Labour Supply. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1967.

John Komlos The Secular Trend in the Biological Standard of Living in the UK, 1730–1860.” Economic History Review 46, no.1 (1993): 115–44.

Peter H. Lindert , and JeffIey G. Williamson . “English Workers' Living Standards during the Industrial Revolution: A New Look.” Economic History Review 36, no.1 (1983): 125.

Joel Mokyr Has the Industrial Revolution been Crowded Out? Some Reflections on Crafts and Williamson.” Explorations in Economic History 24, no.3 (1987): 293319.

Joel Mokyr , and Cormac Ó Gràda . “Poor and Getting Poorer? Living Standards in Ireland before the Famine.” Economic History Review 41, no.2 (1988): 209–35.

Stephen Nicholas , and Deborah Oxley . “The Living Standards of Women during the Industrial Revolution.” Economic History Review 46, no.4 (1993): 723–49.

Stephen Nicholas , and Deborah Oxley .“ Living Standards of Women in England and Wales, 1785–1815: New Evidence from Newgate Prison Records.” Economic History Review 49, no.3 (1996): 591–9.

Douglas A. Reid The Decline of Saint Monday, 1766–1876.” Past and Present 71 (1976): 76101.

Douglas A. Reid Weddings, Weekdays, Work and Leisure in Urban England 1791–1911: The Decline of Saint Monday Revisited.” Past and Present 153 (1996): 135–63.

Simon Szreter , and Graham Mooney . “Urbanization, Mortality, and the Standard of Living Debate: New Estimates of the Expectation of Life at Birth in Nineteenth Century British Cities.” Economic History Review 51 no.1 (1998): 84112.

R. J. Thompson An Enquiry into the Rent of Agricultural Land in England and Wales during the Nineteenth Century.” Journal of the Royal Statistical Society 70 (1907): 587625.

R. S. Tucker Real Wages of Artisans in London.” Journal of the American Statistical Association, 31 (1936): 7384.

Hans-Joachim Voth , and Timothy Leunig . “Did Smallpox Reduce Height? Stature and the Standard of Living in London, 1770–1873.” Economic History Review 49, no.3 (1996): 584–90.

Jeffrey G. Williamson Debating the British Industrial Revolution.” Explorations in Economic History 24 (1987): 269–93.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

The Journal of Economic History
  • ISSN: 0022-0507
  • EISSN: 1471-6372
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-economic-history
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 366 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 1749 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 24th June 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.