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The end of destitution: Evidence from British working households 1904-1937


  • Ian Gazeley

    () (Department of History, University of Sussex)

  • Andrew Newell

    () (Department of Economics, University of Sussex)


This paper estimates and investigates the reduction, almost to elimination, of absolute poverty among working households in Britain between 1904 and 1937. To do this, it exploits two newly-digitised data sets. The paper is a statistical generalisation, to working families in the whole of Britain, of the finding that absolute poverty declined dramatically over the early part of the twentieth century in the towns studied by, among others, Bowley and Rowntree. The paper offers a number of pieces of corroborative evidence that support the estimates. It simulates a decomposition of the poverty reduction into the effects of three proximate causes. The first two causes are the decline in family size and the rise of real wages and these were of roughly equal importance for poverty reduction. The third cause is a decline in wage inequality, but this is of relatively minor importance for poverty reduction among working households. It concludes with a discussion of deeper causes.

Suggested Citation

  • Ian Gazeley & Andrew Newell, 2010. "The end of destitution: Evidence from British working households 1904-1937," Working Paper Series 0210, Department of Economics, University of Sussex.
  • Handle: RePEc:sus:susewp:0210

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Erich Battistin & Richard Blundell & Arthur Lewbel, 2009. "Why Is Consumption More Log Normal than Income? Gibrat's Law Revisited," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 117(6), pages 1140-1154, December.
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    Cited by:

    1. McCloskey, Deirdre Nansen, 2016. "Measured, Unmeasured, Mismeasured, and Unjustified Pessimism: A Review Essay of Thomas Piketty’s Capitalism in the Twenty First Century," Economic Policy, Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, vol. 4, pages 153-195, August.

    More about this item


    poverty; living standards; Britain; demographic change; real wage growth;

    JEL classification:

    • N3 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy
    • O12 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Microeconomic Analyses of Economic Development

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