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The end of destitution: evidence from urban British working households 1904--37


  • Ian Gazeley
  • Andrew Newell


We estimate the reduction, almost to elimination, of absolute poverty among working households in urban Britain between 1904 and 1937. We exploit two recently-digitized data sets. The paper presents a statistical generalization, to working families in the whole of urban Britain, of the poverty decline found in the town studies by, amongst other, Bowley and Rowntree. We offer corroborative evidence and perform a simulated decomposition of the poverty reduction into its proximate causes. The two most important causes were the rise, 1904--37, of about 30% in real wages on the one hand and the reduction of one-third in the number of people in the average household over the same period. Between them, these two changes imply a near doubling of the income per capita of an average household supported by a worker on the average wage. We conclude with a discussion of deeper causes. Copyright 2012 Oxford University Press 2011 All rights reserved, Oxford University Press.

Suggested Citation

  • Ian Gazeley & Andrew Newell, 2012. "The end of destitution: evidence from urban British working households 1904--37," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 64(1), pages 80-102, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:oxecpp:v:64:y:2012:i:1:p:80-102

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    Cited by:

    1. Peter Scott & James T. Walker & Peter Miskell, 2015. "British working-class household composition, labour supply, and commercial leisure participation during the 1930s," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 68(2), pages 657-682, May.
    2. Newell, Andrew T. & Gazeley, Ian, 2012. "The Declines in Infant Mortality and Fertility: Evidence from British Cities in Demographic Transition," IZA Discussion Papers 6855, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    3. Rebecca Searle, 2015. "Is there anything real about real wages? A history of the official British cost of living index, 1914–62," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 68(1), pages 145-166, February.

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