11.15. Calculation of Total Income

To show the large-scale effects over time of some of the points we have explained, we have here a calculation of the total earnings of a typical family, which includes: 

  • weekly winter wages of the man;
  • earnings of the man from summer wages, harvest wages, and task-work;
  • income of the wife and children from spinning wool, starting from 4 shillings a week for 60 % of the families in 1770-1790, and reducing to zero in 1820;
  • income of a boy over 10 years old, in 40 % of the families, at 30 % of his father’s wages.

The figures do not include:

  • problems caused by enclosures;
  • savings in food costs from gleaning;
  • savings in food costs of 100 % in the harvest month, as the farmer brought the food out to the fields;
  • income, or savings in food costs, from having a pig;
  • savings in food costs, from allotments of potatoes;
  • (for some Northern regions) lesser cost for cereals, as they ate oats or barley.
Average wageAverage wageWeekly wage Bushel wheat
Shillings weekwithout spinningShillingsShillings

The figure of 13.5 shillings total family income in 1770, is to be compared with the calculation by Arthur Young for 1771, of 14.5 shillings for a man, wife, boy of 15 years, boy of 10 years, and a small child (average of manufacturers and labourers). A sample of four families gave that the average expense (45 lb. bread, 90 oz. cheese, little meat) was 13.0 shillings.

(Young, The Farmer’s Letters to the People of England, 1771, pp. 198-202)

The income figures are compared against the cost of a bushel of wheat, which was taken to be the required amount for a large family. This is not a completely useful parameter, as:

  • about 30 % of the population of England changed from eating oats, barley, or rye, to wheat in this period, which increased the food costs of those families by approx. 50 %;
  • on the other hand, the consumption of potatoes started around 1770, and at the end of the period, probably 25 % of the volume of carbohydrates eaten was of potatoes, which a unit price close to 30 % of that of wheat.   

We see that the total earnings of the family remained the same from 1770 to 1790 (before the price and income inflation in 1796) although the man’s weekly wages increased, as did the price of wheat. The arithmetical effect of the loss of the wife’s earnings from spinning was to reduce the total income of the family in shillings, but simultaneously to increase the average income per person in agricultural families (the divisor – the number of persons earning – goes down). 

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