Urban working-class food consumption and nutrition in Britain in 1904

Gazeley, Ian and Newell, Andrew (2015) Urban working-class food consumption and nutrition in Britain in 1904. Economic History Review, 68 (1). pp. 101-122. ISSN 0013-0117

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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 household 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 may have received, on average, about 80% of a man’s share of the available food. 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. These results are 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 are estimated to have suffered severe food shortages.

JEL Classification: I14, I32, N34
Keywords: nutrition, well-being, Britain, early 20th century.

Item Type: Article
Schools and Departments: School of History, Art History and Philosophy > History
University of Sussex Business School > Economics
Depositing User: Ian Gazeley
Date Deposited: 18 Sep 2015 14:23
Last Modified: 05 Mar 2021 08:02
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/56828

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Project NameSussex Project NumberFunderFunder Ref
The Living Standards of Working Households in Britain, 1904-1960G0075ESRC-ECONOMIC & SOCIAL RESEARCH COUNCILES/H000666/1