IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Log in (now much improved!) to save this paper

Poverty, policy, and industrialization : lessons from the distant past

Listed author(s):
  • Polak, Ben
  • Williamson, Jeffrey G.

Pessimists say industrialization increased poverty; optimists say it did not. The authors argue that how much industrialization eradicates poverty depends on the form industrialization takes. It is not economic growth by itself, but the processes and policies associated with different growth regimes which make the poor poorer. The authors address two questions : 1) what happened to the proportionate share of the population living in poverty, and to the living standards of the poor, during nineteenth century industrial revolutions?; and 2) why did poverty statistics behave the way they did? Modern economic growth may erode traditional entitlements that serve as safety nets in preindustrial societies. It may be convenient to think otherwise, but typically the poor in preindustrial European and North American societies were not supported by the family and private institutions. Much of the responsibility for the poor lay with the state and other formal, statelike institutions that intervened in food markets. Where laissez-faire policies were adopted during the Industrial Revolution, as in America and England, many of the poor (especially the extremely poor) became more vulnerable to adverse conditions.

If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

File URL:
Download Restriction: no

Paper provided by The World Bank in its series Policy Research Working Paper Series with number 645.

in new window

Date of creation: 30 Apr 1991
Handle: RePEc:wbk:wbrwps:645
Contact details of provider: Postal:
1818 H Street, N.W., Washington, DC 20433

Phone: (202) 477-1234
Web page:

More information through EDIRC

References listed on IDEAS
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:

in new window

  1. Gary S. Becker, 1962. "Investment in Human Capital: A Theoretical Analysis," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 70, pages 1-9.
  2. MacKinnon, Mary, 1986. "Poor law policy, unemployment, and pauperism," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 23(3), pages 299-336, July.
  3. Lindert, Peter H. & Williamson, Jeffrey G., 1985. "Growth, equality, and history," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 22(4), pages 341-377, October.
  4. MacKinnon, Mary, 1987. "English Poor Law Policy and the Crusade Against Outrelief," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 47(03), pages 603-625, September.
  5. Robinson, Sherman, 1976. "A Note on the U Hypothesis Relating Income Inequality and Economic Development," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 66(3), pages 437-440, June.
  6. Williamson, Jeffrey G., 1976. "American Prices and Urban Inequality Since 1820," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 36(02), pages 303-333, June.
  7. Sundstrom, William A. & David, Paul A., 1988. "Old-age security motives, labor markets, and farm family fertility in antebellum American," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 25(2), pages 164-197, April.
  8. Hannon, Joan Underhill, 1985. "Poor relief policy in antebellum New York state: The rise and decline of the poorhouse," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 22(3), pages 233-256, July.
  9. Ahluwalia, Montek S., 1976. "Inequality, poverty and development," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 3(4), pages 307-342, December.
  10. Robert W. Fogel, 1986. "Nutrition and the Decline in Mortality since 1700: Some Preliminary Findings," NBER Chapters,in: Long-Term Factors in American Economic Growth, pages 439-556 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Morley, Samuel A, 1981. "The Effect of Changes in the Population on Several Measures of Income Distribution," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 71(3), pages 285-294, June.
  12. Hannon, Joan Underhill, 1984. "Poverty in the Antebellum Northeast: The View from New York State's Poor Relief Rolls," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 44(04), pages 1007-1032, December.
Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:wbk:wbrwps:645. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Roula I. Yazigi)

If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.