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Engel’s Law Around the World 150 Years Later


  • Richard Anker


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.

Suggested Citation

  • Richard Anker, 2011. "Engel’s Law Around the World 150 Years Later," Working Papers wp247, Political Economy Research Institute, University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
  • Handle: RePEc:uma:periwp:wp247

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. David Card, 2005. "Is the New Immigration Really so Bad?," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 115(507), pages 300-323, November.
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    Cited by:

    1. Miles Parker, 2016. "Global inflation: the role of food, housing and energy prices," Reserve Bank of New Zealand Discussion Paper Series DP2016/05, Reserve Bank of New Zealand.
    2. Richard H. Steckel & Garrett Senney, 2015. "Historical Origins of a Major Killer: Cardiovascular Disease in the American South," NBER Working Papers 21809, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

    More about this item


    History of economic thought; Economic history; Consumer economics; Consumption; Measurement and analysis of poverty; Household behavior;

    JEL classification:

    • B31 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought: Individuals - - - Individuals
    • B41 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - Economic Methodology - - - Economic Methodology
    • D12 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Consumer Economics: Empirical Analysis
    • E21 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Consumption; Saving; Wealth
    • I32 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - Measurement and Analysis of Poverty
    • N01 - Economic History - - General - - - Development of the Discipline: Historiographical; Sources and Methods
    • N30 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - General, International, or Comparative
    • P46 - Economic Systems - - Other Economic Systems - - - Consumer Economics; Health; Education and Training; Welfare, Income, Wealth, and Poverty

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