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Urban Working-Class Food Consumption and Nutrition in Britain in 1904


  • Andrew Newell

    () (Department of Economics, University of Sussex, UK
    IZA, Bonn, Germany)

  • Ian Gazeley

    () (Department of History, University of Sussex, UK)


This article re-examines the food consumption of working class households in 1904 and compares the nutritional content of these diets with modern measures of adequacy. We find a fairly steep gradient of nutritional attainment relative to economic class, with high levels of vitamin and mineral deficiency among the very poorest working households. We conclude that the average unskilled-headed working households was better fed and nourished than previously thought. When proper allowance is made for the likely consumption of alcohol, household energy intakes were significantly higher still. We investigate the likely impact of contemporary cultural food distribution norms and conclude on the basis of the very limited evidence available that women were receiving about 0.8 of the available food, which was consistent with their nutritional needs. We adjust energy requirements for likely higher physical activity rates and smaller stature and find that except among the poorest households, early twentieth century diets were sufficient to provide energy for reasonably physically demanding work. This is consistent with recent attempts to relate the available anthropometric evidence to long-run trends in food consumption. We also find that the lower tail of the household nutrition distribution drops away very rapidly, so that few households suffered serious food shortages.

Suggested Citation

  • Andrew Newell & Ian Gazeley, 2012. "Urban Working-Class Food Consumption and Nutrition in Britain in 1904," Working Paper Series 4712, Department of Economics, University of Sussex.
  • Handle: RePEc:sus:susewp:4712

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Roderick Floud & Robert W. Fogel & Bernard Harris & Sok Chul Hong, 2011. "The Changing Body: Health, Nutrition, and Human Development in the Western World since 1700," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number foge10-1, January.
    2. Ian Gazeley & Andrew Newell, 2013. "The First World War and working-class food consumption in Britain," European Review of Economic History, Oxford University Press, vol. 17(1), pages 71-94, February.
    3. Humphries,Jane, 2010. "Childhood and Child Labour in the British Industrial Revolution," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521847568, May.
    4. Fogel,Robert William, 2004. "The Escape from Hunger and Premature Death, 1700–2100," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521004886, May.
    5. A. E. Dingle, 1972. "Drink and Working-class Living Standards in Britain, 1870–1914," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 25(4), pages 608-622, November.
    6. Ian Gazeley & Andrew Newell, 2011. "Poverty in Edwardian Britain," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 64(1), pages 52-71, February.
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    Cited by:

    1. Gazeley, Ian & Newell, Andrew T. & Bezabih, Mintewab, 2013. "The Transformation of Hunger Revisited," IZA Discussion Papers 7275, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    2. Stockhammer, Engelbert & Rabinovich, Joel & Reddy, Niall, 2017. "Distribution, wealth and demand regimes in historical perspective. USA, UK, France and Germany, 1855-2010," Economics Discussion Papers 2017-5, School of Economics, Kingston University London.

    More about this item


    nutrition; well-being; Britain; early 20th century.;

    JEL classification:

    • I14 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health and Inequality
    • I32 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - Measurement and Analysis of Poverty
    • N34 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - Europe: 1913-

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