The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd

Household Budgets

  • A. P. Barten
Reference work entry


The earliest known example of systematically collected household budgets can be found in The State of the Poor by Eden (1797). To assess the living conditions of the lower classes Eden wanted to know, in addition to other matters, the ‘Earnings and expenses of a labourer’s family for a year: distinguishing the number and ages of the family; and the price and quantity of their articles of consumption’ (Preface, p. iv). He obtained this information for households from some 50 parishes in England. Eden reports for these families their earnings by type of income (mostly wages) and income earner, and their expenses by type of expenditure (food, rent, fuel, clothing). Prices and quantities are only rarely given but the composition of the family and the occupation of its head are usually precisely described. Another well known early example is the collection of 199 budgets for Belgian labouring class families in 1853, published by Ducpétiaux (1855), which provided the statistical material for the formulation of Engel’s Law (Engel 1857). Ducpétiaux used a uniform classification of expenditures to facilitate comparison of consumption patterns across families. The 19th century has seen a gradual extension of such household budget surveys mostly conducted by private (groups of) persons on an incidental basis. In more recent times official institutions organize these surveys more or less regularly as part of their normal operations. They may cover thousands of families.

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© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. P. Barten
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