419/2019 Sara Horrell, Jane Humphries and Jacob Weisdorf
We utilise wage series for men, women and children to construct a long-run measure of family welfare in England, 1280-1850. We make adjustment for the participation rates of women and children, the varying number of days supplied to the labour market over time, the changing involvement of married women in paid work, and the evolving occupational structure of the economy. The resultant series is the first to depict the long run material experience of a representative, working family. Our family existed just above bare bones survival prior to the Black Death, but, as attested elsewhere, shortage of labour after the plague brought substantial gains. However, these gains were not unassailable. Restrictions on women’s work and Tudor turmoil pushed the family below the ‘respectable’ level previously achieved. Transformation of the economy from the mid-1600s onwards coincided with improved welfare. While the position of the representative family tracked the trajectory of GDP per capita through the early modern and industrial revolution periods, this was only achieved by shifting contributions from different family members. Our paper provides an account of long run material wellbeing on a more satisfactory basis than historians have achieved hitherto, not focused on men alone nor on marginalised women and children, but on realistically constructed historical families.
Past & Present