Optimism or pessimism? A composite view on English living standards during the Industrial Revolution

Gallardo Albarrán, D.; Jong, H. de


This article examines the evolution of English living standards during the early phase of industrialization (1760–1850). We take a multi-dimensional perspective and apply an indicator that combines four key dimensions of well-being: material living standards, health, working time, and inequality. Contrary to other composite measures of well-being, our welfare metric draws on standard economic theory to aggregate its underlying components. We find decreasing welfare during the late eighteenth century due to rising working time and income inequality, despite improving health. After 1800, workers’ conditions improved when real wages started to rise, although the cumulative effect was not substantial by 1850.