Engel’s Law Around the World 150 Years Later
One of the most enduring relationships in economics is that proposed by Ernst Engel in 1857: “The poorer is a family, the greater is the proportion of the total outgo [family expenditures] which must be used for food. … The proportion of the outgo used for food, other things being equal is the best measure of the material standard of living of a population.” The 150th anniversary of Engel’s law passed in 2007. With this in mind, the present paper looks at the extent to which Engel’s law is relevant in today’s world by looking across countries at the relationship between the share of household expenditure spent on food and national income per capita. This working paper provides an empirical analysis of Engel’s law based on data for almost every country and territory in the world. This facilitates analysis of the relationship between the food share of household expenditure and national income per capita, especially how this differs by development level.
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