The idea here is to show that it is not in general useful, to compare the income of one head of family in 1770 with the income of one head of family in 1860. The correct calculation is to compare the total income of (for example) 1.0 head of family and 0.65 other family members in 1770, with the total income of perhaps 2.1 family members in 1860; further, the family members in 1860 were earning good incomes.
To illustrate this difference, we will analyse the family incomes of a group of families in Lancashire in 1836. The original study was made to show the horrible decrease in living standards of the working classes, due to depression of 1839-1842. The 1841 figures represent a short-term situation of great poverty. It is not admissible to use these data to make a general judgement about living standards in the Industrial Revolution.
The data were collected by Mr. William McNield, the Mayor of Manchester, from interviews with 19 operatives in Manchester and the satellite town of Dukinfield, and published in the Journal of the Statistical Society of London, Volume 4, 1841, p. 320, under the title of a “Comparative Statement of the Income and Expenditure of certain Families of the Working Classes in Manchester and Dukinfield, in the Years 1836 and 1841”.
We notice that, although well paid, none of the heads of family belongs to the top class of workers. The family incomes in Manchester go from 15 shillings to 87 shillings, and Dukinfield from 13 shillings to 37 shillings. The expenditure in food per week (including rent and coals, but not clothing) is in 1836 about 70 % of the income, and the difference (average 10 shillings) is shown as “left for instruction and purchase of goods”.
For each of the families, we have a detail of the expenditure, as per the following report. The man is a mechanic’s assistant, which is a non-skilled position, and he has 6 other persons to support. Even so, he has a surplus of 5 shillings per week.
The expenditures of the family in 1836, for one week and 7 persons, correspond to:
|36 pounds of flour;|
7 pounds of oatmeal;
2 pounds of meat and 1 ½ pounds of bacon;
1 ¼ pounds of butter;
2 pounds of cheese;
20 pounds of potatoes;
12 pints of milk;
2 ounces of tea;
1 ½ pounds of sugar.
(see Table 3, in the lower part of the page above)
But the really important point of these tables, is that the total family income is much higher than the normal wage level for these job descriptions (we shall be comparing with the figures given by Mr. David Chadwick for 1839 in Manchester and Salford).
For instance, the numbers given for the machine printer and the millwright are 87 shillings and 90 shillings; these were very well-paid jobs (respectively 33 shillings and 30 shillings), but no skilled worker in Lancashire earned more than 35 shillings in 1836. The power-loom weaver may be correct at 14 shillings, but the dresser earns 24 shillings, instead of 20 shillings. One watchman earned apparently 21 shillings, when the average was 16. The overlooker earns 34 shillings, but the average according to Mr. Chadwick was from 18 to 25. The labourers earn 22 and 21 shillings, but the norm was 16.
What is happening, is that the other family members are earning useful amounts from other activities. The father is not going to allow his wife, sons and daughters to do nothing all day. But note that the figures show an excess in the weekly accounts. This means that they do not need all the income from the additional work to cover their expenses.
The wife may well be washing clothes; either she is literally “taking in other people’s washing” when the family needs the money, or she has an established business. According to the Census of 1851, there were about 146,000 washerwomen in the country. Mr. Levi puts their income in 1867 at about 10 shillings a week.
A daughter of from 12 to 18 years old could be working in auxiliary tasks in industry. There was a lot of employment of boys in calico printing, chemical works, and small workshops for metal manufacturing. The work was hard, with very long hours, and paid around 2 shillings a week. We may suppose that, as these families are relatively well of, they do not send their son to this type of work, but he might be working as a messenger boy.
The point of this section is that these additional employments did not exist 50 years earlier. The artisans and labourers in the towns and villages lived from – and paid for the food of their family from – exclusively their own income. The domestic weavers in the towns and the countryside certainly were helped by their wives, but the figures in the present calculations do not register any cash payments for other work to wives or children.
What has happened is that the world is more complex. “Employment” is not just agricultural labour, carpentry and painting, weaving and spinning. There is a lot more to be done.
So the arithmetical movement from 1770 to 1860 should not use only the wages of a typical head of family, but should take the total wages of a normal family, and reduce this to income per “mouth” (family with 4.5 members).
It is not correct to form an average of incomes, using – for example – additional earnings of the wife as a domestic servant. We suppose a man earning 20 shillings, the family eats food for 12 shillings, and the wife starts work as a domestic servant for 10 shillings. The two amounts should be added to give the 30 shillings, which make it easier to pay the 12 shillings for food, apart from other necessary expenses. This then is valid for the country as a whole: all incomes for domestic servants, who are wives or daughters of men working for wages, should be added to the total income.
If we refer to the tables of Mr. Levi for the total of the working classes with incomes in the United Kingdom (incl. Ireland) in 1867, we have:
|Males under |
|Males 20 years or more||Females under 20 years||Females 20 years or |
|Total Males and females|
|Total earnings per year||23,366,000||302,834,000||27,108,000||74,725,000||428,034,000|
|Number of persons||1,183,000||5,935,000||1,306,000||2,591,000||11,018,000|
|Earnings Pounds per year||19.7||50.9||20.8||28.8||38.8|
|Earnings Shillings per week||7.6||19.6||8.0||11.1||14.9|
(*) of which: Domestic servants, 38,800,000 Pounds, 944,000 persons, 40 pounds per year, 15.5 shillings per week (incl. bed and board).
But Mr. Levi says that is reasonable to assume that in every family, on average 2 persons work, and that each working class family receives 31 shillings income per week (p. 9). At 4.5 persons per family (figure from Mr. Levi), this is 6.9 shillings per family member. From the detail pages of Mr. Levi’s book, we can see that the majority of the persons who are employed are earning “adult wages”, that is, above 10 shillings.
Another investigator, Mr. Dudley Baxter, in his “National Income of the United Kingdom” (1868), gives figures for the “Manual Labour Classes” of England and Wales, of 7,785,000 persons Earning Wages and 8,345,000 Dependents, with a total income of 254,729,000 Pounds per year. This gives 3,580,000 families, and 2.17 persons working per family. The unit income per family is 27.4 shillings per week, and the income per “mouth” is 6.1 shillings per week. The figure is somewhat less than Mr. Levi, which is approximately explained by the fact that Mr. Baxter supposes 20 % decrease for lack of work. If we adjust to only 10 % decrease for lack of work, we have an income per mouth of 6.7 shillings.
As a different way to look at the number of workers, we may take the 1851 Census of Great Britain. (Mr. Levi took for his population numbers 1867, the 1861 Census plus 6 %, and the increase from 1851 to 1861 was 10 %); thus the “working class population in employment” in 1851 on Mr. Levi’s terms, would be 11,000,000 / 1.16 = 9,500,000.
The total of wives, widows, children at school, and children at home is 10,400,000, on a total of 21,000,000 population. Thus 50 % of the population are in employment. We may suppose that the figure for the working class is close to this. Then with 4.5 persons per family, we have 2.25 employed persons per family (1.16 men, 0.59 women, 0.29 young men, 0.20 young women). These proportions are close to those of Mr. Levi and Mr. Baxter.
From the following page of the Census of 1851, we see that, of the males under 20, 42 % are at home, 29 % are at school, and 29 % are working. Of the females under 20, 51 % are at home, 28 % are at school, and 21 % are working. This is approximately equivalent to saying that the boys do not start work (on average) until 14 years old, and the girls do no start working before 16 years old. The educational level is 6 years in school for boys, and 5.5 years for girls.
We now need to calculate the average total family income in the working class in 1770. For this we take the information of Arthur Young as to the average wages in the manufacturing activities.
Average of men 9s. 6d.,
of women 4s. 7d.
of children 2s. 8d.
Given the type of activities, it is not probable that each family had 3 persons working for a separate cash wage. If we suppose that in 40 % of the families, a woman is working for a separate wage, and in 25 % of the families, there is one child working for a separate wage, then the average total family income is 12.1 shillings (27 % more than the father alone). If there are 4.5 persons in the family, the average income per “mouth” is 2.7 shillings. The 40 % is probably a high figure; the only women who worked in the same workplace as their husbands for a separate payment were the cotton workers in Lancashire; on the other hand, many women and older girls worked in a different industry or service, for example, lace embroidery, silk, straw articles, glove making, button making, domestic service, washerwomen.
If we inflate the 2.7 shillings as per the cost of living index, we have 3.9 shillings at level 1860.
This is to be compared with the real 1860 value above, of 6.8 shillings. Thus the increase in real income per “mouth” is 6.8 / 3.9 = 1.75 times.
This line of reasoning is indirectly supported by Bob Allen in his “Class Structure and Inequality during the Industrial Revolution: Lessons from England’s Social Tables, 1688-1867”, utilizing contemporary estimations of total incomes per social class, from 1759, 1798, 1846, 1867.
In his table 4, showing «average annual income per earner in pounds per year, England and Wales», he gives for the workers, 13.58 pounds in 1759, and 31.83 pounds in 1867. This is 2.34 times. The 2.34 times, when deflated by his cost of living index (2007) of 1.51 for 1759 to 1867, gives 1.55 times, which we may suppose demonstrates an improvement in real wages of this magnitude for the average worker.
But when we look at the Table 5, “average real annual income per person, England and Wales (multiples of subsistence income)”, the improvement from 1759 to 1867 is 6.21 / 3.27 = 1.90 times (we may suppose that the movements in the defined “subsistence income” would be very close to those in the cost of living index; anyway, both figures refer to the worker’s possibilities of buying food, etc.)
Thus we have again a difference between real income per earner, and real income per family member. The figures are 1.55 and 1.90. This is explainable by an improvement of 22 % due to the number of family members actually earning. This is somewhat less than the number calculated two pages above.
It appears, then, that the increase in real (corrected for inflation) income per family member for 1770 to 1860, that is, the measurement of the amount of food and expenses that could be purchased per “mouth”, is about 80 % (0.65 % per annum, compounded, or 6.7 % per decade, compounded).
As we have analysed in detail the movements of the total family income for agricultural labourers, and we know the real income per family member, we must suppose that the 80 % improvement refers exclusively to the universe of non-agricultural families.
It may be objected that the 40 % participation of women does not have much documental support, and thus gives room for doubt as to the per cent increase in real wages from 1770 to 1860. But we can make a “reverse calculation”.
We know that the average income per family in 1860 was 31 shillings, and the income per “mouth” was 7 shillings. We divide these by 1.35 for the generally accepted increase in real wages from 1770 to 1860, and divide by 1.45 to adjust for inflation. This gives 15.8 shillings nominal income for the family in 1770, and 3.6 shillings per “mouth”. To adjust to the “Arthur Young” figures, we would require 0.85 women and 0.85 children per family, in work, and earning the given wages with a separate cash payment.This obviously was not the case.
As we have seen in the section on “Drunkenness”, Mr. Porter, the Secretary of the Board of Trade, made a report on the annual consumption in the United Kingdom of spirits, beer, and tobacco. From this report, we can calculate that the average cost of consumption of beer in the working class families was 1.3 pounds per person per year, or 2.3 shillings per family per week; the volume consumption was 15 pints per family per week. The average income per principal wage-earner was about 14 shillings at that time, so that 16 % of the income went on beer.
This means that, either, the families were able to spend an important part of their income on beer (and some additional amounts on gin, brandy, and tobacco), and thus were in very good financial circumstances, or, that the total weekly incomes of the families were higher than are generally supposed. It also means that the “family budgets” that we have are not complete.
(Porter, 1850, On the self-imposed Taxation of the Working Classes in the United Kingdom)
To illustrate how the types of work became more varied during the first half of the nineteenth century, we can refer to the reports of correspondents to the Morning Chronicle in 1849-1851, which describe the jobs done in all parts of the country, and all sectors of industry. A modern recopilation of the letters is found in “Labour and the Poor in England and Wales 1849-1851”, Jules Ginswick, 1983. In the introductory volume, the modern editors present an extraction of all the job descriptions in the light manufacturing, heavy manufacturing, textile, and mining industries (Appendix 1, pp. xxxvii – xlv). There are about 350 job descriptions, of which we give 12 below; some are for women, girls, and boys, and with decent earnings levels. This is a very different range of employments against the possibilities in 1770.
Staffordshire Iron Works
|Blast furnacemen, from 18s. to 25s. (but wages always fluctuated with the state of the iron trade)|
Forgemen, 25s. to 30s.
Millmen, 16s. to 25s.
Underhands, boys, 7s. 6d. to 10s.
Women employed about blast furnaces and coke ovens, 4s. to 6s.
South Wales Iron Works, Merthyr Tydfil, Dowlais Iron Works
Furnace fillers, 24s.
Puddlers (average of puddler and second hand),
Piling and mine clearing, girls, 5s.
In Appendix 2 (pp. xlvi – lvi), the job descriptions are listed, ordered by decreasing weekly income, from above 40 shillings to under 5 shillings.
It might be objected that this list of jobs only shows that men, women, and children, could find a variety of different jobs, but that this does not demonstrate that there were – in absolute numbers – more jobs available, above the 2.5 times increase in population.
The answer to this point, is that there were many new occupations and industries, which created a large amount of employment, at good wages:
- (up to 1830) excavation of canals;
- (from 1830) excavation of railway cuttings, opening of tunnels, laying of railway truck, 200,000 men in the years with most work;
- pottery and porcelain, 50,000 direct workers, plus incoming and outgoing transport;
- manufacture of 200,000 metal power looms in 20 years (plus the extraction of iron ore, and foundry work);
- manufacture of railway engines, passenger carriages, freight wagons;
- manufacture of steam engines (stationary and railway),
- manufacture of railway tracks;
- opening of iron and steel works in South Wales;
- increase in volume of coal mining (coal required for the steam engines);
- housing construction;
- factory construction, public buildings construction;
- drivers for horse omnibuses;
- chemical products and glass:
For the effects of railway expansion on employment, earnings and expenses, see:
Tooke (1857), Part III, “On the Progress of Railway Construction … “, pp. 348-390, “…. The population supported by the Railway Works was nearly, if not quite, as large, on the average of the five years [1846 to 1850], as the total population in the whole of the Factories of the United Kingdom.”