Skip to main content
×
×
Home

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

  • Charles H. Feinstein (a1)
Abstract

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.

Copyright
References
Hide All
Acworth, A.W., Financial Reconstruction in England, 1818–1822. London: P.S. King, 1925.
Ashton, T.S. “The Standard of Life of the Workers in England, 1790–1830.” this JOURNAL, supp. 9 (1949): 1938.
Ashton, T. S.Economic Fluctuations in England, 1700–1800. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1959.
Beveridge, W., “The Trade Cycle in Britain before 1850: A Postscript.” Oxford Economic Papers 4 (1940): 6376.
Bienefeld, M. A., Working Hours in British Industry. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1972.
Bowley, A. L. “The Statistics of Wages in the United Kingdom during the last Hundred Years,” Part III, “Agricultural Wages in Ireland.” Journal of the Royal Statistical Society (1899): 395404.
Boyer, George. An Economic History of the English Poor Law, 1750–1850. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.
Brassey, T.On Work and Wages. London: Bell and Daldy, 1873.
Briggs, Asa. The Age of Improvement. London: Longmans, 1959.
Brown, John C.. “The Condition of England and the Standard of Living: Cotton Textiles in the Northwest, 1806–1850.” this JOURNAL 50, no.3 (1990): 591614.
Burnett, John. Plenty and Want, A Social History of Diet in England from 1815 to the Present Day. London: Nelson, 1966.
Caird, J., English Agriculture in 1850–1851. London: Longman, 1851.
Chambers, J. D. and Mingay, G. E.. The Agricultural Revolution 1750–1880. London: Batsford, 1966.
Chapman, Agatha L.Wages and Salaries in the United Kingdom 1920–1938. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1953.
Church, Roy. The History of the British Coal Industry. Vol. 3. 1830–1913, Victorian Preeminence. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986.
ClarkGregory, Michael Huberman Gregory, Michael Huberman, and Lindert, Peter H.. “A British Food Puzzle, 1770–1850.” Economic History Review 48, no.2 (1995): 215–37.
Collins, E. J. T.Harvest Technology and Labour Supply in Britain, 1790–1870.” Economic History Review 22, no.3 (1969): 453–73.
Collins, E. J. T.Dietary Change and Cereal Consumption in Britain in the Nineteenth Century.” Agricultural History Review 23, part 2 (1975): 97115.
Crafts, N. F. R.English Workers' Living Standards during the Industrial Revolution: Some Remaining Problems.” this JOURNAL 45, no. 1 (1985): 139–44.
Crafts, N.F.R.British Economic Growth, 1700–1850; Some Difficulties of Interpretation.” Explorations in Economic History 24, no.3 (1987): 245–68.
Crafts, N. F. R.Regional Price Variations in England in 1843: An Aspect of the Standard of Living Debate.” Explorations in Economic History 19, no.1 (1982): 5170.
Crafts, N. F. R.Some Dimensions of the ‘Quality of Life’ during the British Industrial Revolution.” Economic History Review 50, no.4 (1997): 617–39.
David, Paul A., and Solar, Peter. “A Bicentenary Contribution to the History of the Cost of Living in America.” Research in Economic History 2 (1977): 180.
Davies, D.The Case of Labourers in Husbandry. London: Robinson, 1795.
Eden, F. M.The State of the Poor. 3 vols. London: B. and J. White, 1797.
Engerman, Stanley L. “Reflections on ‘The Standard of Living Debate’: New Arguments and New Evidence.” In Capitalism in Context: Essays in Economic Development and Cultural Change in Honor of R. M. Hariwell, edited by James, John A. and Thomas, Mark, 5079. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1995.
Feinstein, Charles H.New Estimates of Average Earnings in the United Kingdom, 1880–1913.” Economic History Review 43, no.4 (1990): 595632
Feinstein, Charles H. “A New Look at the Cost of Living 1870–1914.” In New Perspectives on the Late Victorian Economy, edited by Foreman-Peck, James, 151–79. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
Feinstein, Charles H. “Changes in Nominal Wages, the Cost of Living and Real Wages in the United Kingdom over Two Centuries, 1780–1990.” In Labour's Reward, Real Wages and Economic Change in 19th and 20th-Century Europe, edited by Scholliers, P. and Zamagni, V., 336. Aldershot: Edward Elgar, 1995.
Feinstein, Charles H. “Wage-Earnings in Great Britain during the Industrial Revolution.” In Applied Economics and Public Policy, edited by Begg, Iain and Henry, S. G. B., 181209. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
Feinstein, Charles H., and Pollard, Sidney. Studies in Capital Formation in the United Kingdom 1750–1920. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988.
Flinn, Michael W.Trends in Real Wages, 1750–1850.” Economic History Review 27, no.3 (1974): 395414.
FloudRoderick, Kenneth Wachter Roderick, Kenneth Wachter, and Gregory, Annabel. Height, Health and History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.
Fox, Alan. History and Heritage, The Social Origins of the British Industrial Relations System. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1985.
Gash, N., “Rural Unemployment, 1815–34.” Economic History Review 1st ser., 6 (19351936): 9093.
Gayer, A. D., Rostow, W. W., and Schwartz, A. J.. The Growth and Fluctuation of the British Economy, 1790–1850. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1953.
Gilboy, Elizabeth W.The Cost of Living and Real wages in Eighteenth Century England.” Review of Economic Statistics 18 (1936): 134–43.
Goschen, G. J.Reports and Speeches on Local Taxation. London: Macmillan, 1872.
Habakkuk, H. J.American and British Technology in the Nineteenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1962.
Hobsbawm, Eric J.The Age of Capital 1848–1875. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1975.
Holdemess, B. A. “Prices, Productivity and Output.” In The Agrarian History of England and Wales, Vol. 6, 1750–1850, edited by Mingay, G. E., 84189. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.
Hopkins, Eric. “Working Hours and Conditions during the Industrial Revolution: a Re-Appraisal.” Economic History Review 35, no.1 (1982): 5266.
Hoppit, Julian. Risk and Failure in English Business, 1700–1800. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987.
Horrell, Sara. “Home Demand and British Industrialization.” this JOURNAL 56, no. 3 (1996): 561604.
Horrell, Sara, and Humphries, Jane. “Old Questions, New Data and Alternative Perspectives: Families' Living Standards in the Industrial Revolution.” this JOURNAL 52, no.4 (1992): 849–80.
Huck, Paul. “Infant Mortality and Living Standards of English Workers during the Industrial Revolution.” this JOURNAL 55, no.3 (1995): 528–50.
Hughes, J. R. T.Fluctuations in Trade, Industry and Finance, A Study of British Economic Development 1850–1860. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1960.
Hunt, E. H.British Labour History 1815–1914. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1981.
Hunt, E. H., and Botham, F. W.. “Wages in Britain during the Industrial Revolution.” Economic History Review 40, no.3 (1987): 380–99.
Jackson, R.V.The Heights of Rural-born English Female Convicts Transported to New South Wales.” Economic History Review 49, no.3 (1996): 584–90.
Jenkins, David T., and Ponting, K. G.The British Wool Textile Industry. London: Heinemann, 1982.
Johnson, Paul, and Nicholas, Stephen. “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.
Jones, Eric L.The Agricultural Labour Market in England, 1793–1872.” Economic History Review 17, no.2 (1964): 322–38.
Kindleberger, C. P.Europe's Postwar Growth, The Role of Labour Supply. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1967.
Komlos, JohnThe Secular Trend in the Biological Standard of Living in the UK, 1730–1860.” Economic History Review 46, no.1 (1993): 115–44.
Arthur, Lewis W.. “Economic Development with Unlimited Supplies of Labour.” Manchester School of Economic and Social Studies 22 (1954): 139–91.
Lindert, Peter H., and Williamson, JeffIey G.. “English Workers' Living Standards during the Industrial Revolution: A New Look.” Economic History Review 36, no.1 (1983): 125.
Lindert, Peter H., and Williamson, Jeffrey G.. “English Workers' Real Wages: Reply to Crafts.” this JOURNAL 45, no.1 (1985): 145–53.
Lowe, J.The Present State of England in regard to Agriculture, Trade and Finance. London: Longman, 1823.
Mackenzie, W. A.Changes in the Standard of Living in the United Kingdom, 1860–1914.” Economica 3 (1921): 211–30.
Mantoux, Paul. The Industrial Revolution in the Eighteenth Century. Revised edition, London: Jonathan Cape, 1928.
Matthews, R. C. O.A Study in Trade-Cycle History, Economic Fluctuations in Great Britain 1833–1842. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1954.
Mitchell, Brian R.The Coming of the Railway and United Kingdom Economic Growth.” this JOURNAL 24, no.3 (1964): 315–36.
Mitchell, Brian R.Economic Development of the British Coal Industry. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984.
Mokyr, Joel. Industrialization in the Low Countries, 1795–1850. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976.
Mokyr, JoelWhy Ireland Starved. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1983.
Mokyr, JoelHas the Industrial Revolution been Crowded Out? Some Reflections on Crafts and Williamson.” Explorations in Economic History 24, no.3 (1987): 293319.
Mokyr, JoelIs There Still Life in the Pessimist Case? Consumption during the Industrial Revolution, 1790–1850.” this JOURNAL 48, no.1(1988): 6992.
Mokyr, Joel, and Gràda, Cormac Ó. “Poor and Getting Poorer? Living Standards in Ireland before the Famine.” Economic History Review 41, no.2 (1988): 209–35.
Mokyr, Joel, and Savin, N. Eugene. “Stagflation in Historical Perspective: The Napoleonic Wars Revisited.” Research in Economic History 1 (1976): 198259.
Nicholas, Stephen, and Oxley, Deborah. “The Living Standards of Women during the Industrial Revolution.” Economic History Review 46, no.4 (1993): 723–49.
Nicholas, Stephen, and Oxley, Deborah.“ 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.
Nicholas, Stephen, and Steckel, Richard H.. “Heights and Living Standards of English Workers during the Early Years of Industrialization, 1770–1815.” this JOURNAL 51, no.4 (1991): 937–57.
Ó, Gráda Cormac. Ireland before and after the Famine. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1988.
Ó, Gráda CormacIreland: A New Economic History 1780–1939. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.
Phelps Brown, Henry, and Hopkins, Sheila V.. A Perspective of Wages and Prices. London: Methuen, 1981.
Pollard, Sidney. “Labour in Great Britain.” In The Cambridge Economic History of Europe, edited by Mathias, P. and Postan, M. M., Vol. 7, Pt. 1, 97179. Cammmbridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978.
Pollard, Sidney. “Sheffield and Sweet Auburn—Amenities and Living Standards in the British Industrial Revolution: A Comment.” this JOURNAL 41, no.4(1981): 902–04.
Reid, Douglas A.The Decline of Saint Monday, 1766–1876.” Past and Present 71 (1976): 76101.
Reid, Douglas A.Weddings, Weekdays, Work and Leisure in Urban England 1791–1911: The Decline of Saint Monday Revisited.” Past and Present 153 (1996): 135–63.
Rule, John. The Experience of Labour in Eighteenth-Century Industry. London: Croom Helm, 1981.
Schwarz, L. D.London in the Age of Industrialisation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
Schumpeter, Elizabeth B.English Prices and Public Finance, 1660–1822.“ Review of Economics and Statistics 20 (1938): 2237.
Scola, Roger. Feeding the Victorian City, The Food Supply of Manchester 1770–1870. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1992.
Sigsworth, Eric. Black Dyke Mills. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1958.
Snell, K. D. M.Annals of the Labouring Poor Social Change and Agrarian England 1660–1900. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985.
Stamp, J. C.British Incomes and Property. London: P. S. King, 1916.
Steckel, Richard H.Stature and the Standard of Living.” Journal of Economic Literature 33, no.4 (1995): 1903–40.
Szreter, Simon, and Mooney, Graham. “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.
Taylor, A. J.The Standard of Living in Britain in the Industrial Revolution. London: Methuen, 1975.
Thompson, R. J.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.
Tucker, R. S.Real Wages of Artisans in London.” Journal of the American Statistical Association, 31 (1936): 7384.
von, Tunzelmann, Nicholas, G.. “Trends in Real Wages, 1750–1850, Revisited.” Economic History Review 32, no.1 (1979): 3349.
von, Tunzelmann, Nicholas, G. “The Standard of Living Debate and Optimal Economic Growth.” In The Economics of the Industrial Revolution, edited by Mokyr, Joel, 207–26. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1985.
United Kingdom House of Commons. Poor Law Commissioners. Ninth Annual Report, Parliamentary Papers (H.C. 468) 1843. Vol. 21.
Voth, Hans-Joachim. “Time-Use in Eighteenth Centwy London: Some Evidence from the Old Bailey.” Ph.D. diss., University of Oxford, 1995.
Voth, Hans-Joachim, and Leunig, Timothy. “Did Smallpox Reduce Height? Stature and the Standard of Living in London, 1770–1873.” Economic History Review 49, no.3 (1996): 584–90.
Williams, Karel. From Pauperism to Poverty. London: Routledge, 1981.
Williamson, Jeffrey G.The Structure of Pay in Britain, 1710–1911.” Research in Economic History 7 (1982): 154.
Williamson, Jeffrey G.Why was British Growth so Slow during the Industrial Revolution?” this JOURNAL 44, no.3 (1984): 687712.
Williamson, Jeffrey G.Did British Capitalism Breed Inequality? London: George Allen and Unwin, 1985.
Williamson, Jeffrey G.Debating the British Industrial Revolution.” Explorations in Economic History 24 (1987): 269–93.
Williamson, JeffreyDid English Factor Markets Fail during the Industrial Revolution?Oxford Economic Papers, 39, no.4 (1987): 641–78.
Wrigley, E. A., and Schofield, R. S.. The Population History of England 1541–1871. London: Arnold, 1981.
Wrigley, E. A., Davies, R. S., Oeppen, J. E., and Schofield, R. S.. English Population History from Family Reconstitution, 1580–1837. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
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? *
×

Metrics

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

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

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed