Review of Economics of the Household

, Volume 13, Issue 4, pp 1043–1053 | Cite as

A note on the ‘food paradox’: some contradictory evidence

  • Donald F. Vitaliano


A sample of 200 households in one New York City neighborhood in 1904 shows constant per capita food consumption as households grow in size, holding constant per capita expenditure. Logan (Econ Inq 49(4):1008–1028, 2011) presents US historical evidence that per capita food consumption declines as households grow, replicating contemporary cross-national evidence reported by Deaton and Paxson (J Political Econ 106(5):897–930, 1998), which they describe as a ‘paradox’. Possible reasons for the contradictory evidence include minimal price variation within a city, greater homogeneity of household units, more being spend on rent leading to greater benefits of sharing living space, and application of the unitary household model to a more appropriate setting. Time series estimates of US price and income elasticity of food demand show constant or increasing per capita consumption, which also contradicts the received literature.


Engel curves ‘Food paradox’ Household food consumption Household scale economies 

JEL Classification

D1 N3 


  1. Berndt, E. R. (1991). The practice of econometrics. New York: Addison-Wesley.Google Scholar
  2. Deaton, A. (1986). Demand analysis. In Z. Grilliches & M. Intriligator (Eds.), Handbook of econometrics (Vol. III, pp. 1768–1839). Amsterdam: Elsevier Science Publishers.Google Scholar
  3. Deaton, A., & Paxson, C. (1998). Economies of scale, household size, and the demand for food. Journal of Political Economy, 106(5), 897–930.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Deaton, A., & Paxson, C. (2003). Engel’s what? A response to Gan and Vernon. Journal of Political Economy, 111(6), 1378–1381.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Gan, L., & Vernon, V. (2003). Testing the Barten model of economies of scale in household consumption: Toward resolving the paradox of Deaton and Paxson. Journal of Political Economy, 111(6), 1361–1377.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Gibson, J. (2002). Why does the Engel method work? Food demand, economies of size and household survey methods. Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, 64(4), 341–359.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Girshick, M. A., & Haavelmo, T. (1944). Statistical analysis of the demand for food: Examples of simultaneous estimation of structural equations. Econometrica, 15(2), 79–110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Logan, T. D. (2011). Economies of scale in the household: Puzzles and patterns from the American past. Economic Inquiry, 49(4), 1008–1028.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. More, L. B. (1907). Wage earners’ budgets: A study of standards and cost of living in New York city. New York: Henry Holt and Co.Google Scholar
  10. US Bureau of the Census. (1975). Historical statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1970, part 1. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office.Google Scholar
  11. Vitaliano, D. F. (2010). Engel curves and the unitary theory of the household. International Journal of Consumer Studies, 34(1), 69–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Emeritus Professor of EconomicsRensselaer Polytechnic InstituteTroyUSA

Personalised recommendations