Monthly Archives: May 2018

Inequality needs to be put at the heart of our understanding of social change during the industrial revolution

by Prof. Emma Griffin (University of East Anglia) For the past decade, I have been looking at the impact of the British industrial revolution on the lives of ordinary men, women and children, drawing upon life-writing and autobiography and focusing on the lived experience. My reading of the autobiographical evidence suggested that adult men working in industrial occupations earned higher wages and enjoyed a raft of advantages compared with those who remained on the land, and although I emphasised these gains were not shared by women and children, the suggestion that industrialisation brought any meaningful benefits to any segment of the working classes, nonetheless proved to be controversial. A collection of extraordinary working-class household budgets collected between 1790 and 1850, offered the promise of studying the living standards of the early industrial workforce in a more quantitative way than was possible with the working-class autobiographies. The budgets were recorded by gentlemen investigators – vicars, landowners, and other members of elite society with an interest in the lives their poorer neighbours. The investigators collected information about income and expenditure in selected households in their parishes, making it possible to compare the incomes and diets of those who lived in the industrial […]