Living standards and the life-cycle: reconstructing household income and consumption in the early twentieth-century Netherlands

Conventional methods of measuring historical household living standards are often criticized because of the omission of women's and children's wages and non-wage income; the focus on urban centres; and the exclusion of life-cycle changes in household composition, income and consumption. This article presents a method that accounts for these issues and applies it to agricultural and textile households in the early-twentieth century Netherlands. It uses total household income, as opposed to the husband's wage, as the enumerator for calculating alternative welfare ratios. The results show that welfare ratios were not only structurally higher than those based on the male-breadwinner model, but also followed a different life-cycle trajectory. Furthermore, household portfolios were diversified and depended on local labour market structures. Thus, the study concludes that analyses based on men's wages only reflect the rough outlines of how households functioned.

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