The Family Economy in History

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Sara Horrell SAR 6.03


This course is available on the BSc in Economic History, BSc in Economic History and Geography, BSc in Economic History with Economics, BSc in Economics and Economic History and BSc in Economics with Economic History. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.


Introductory economics is not a strict pre-requisite for this course, but students may find a basic introduction to economics helpful in understanding some of the material.

Course content

The actions of individuals within the household have increasingly been given explanatory power in determining long-run economic growth. For instance, labour shortages occasioned by the outbreak of the Black Death across C14th Europe may have allowed greater female agency over marriage decisions, facilitating a regime that enabled population growth to keep in step with economic resources; in the early modern period, the desire to purchase new goods prompted the increased labour market participation of, particularly, women and children, thus creating economic expansion with the potential to evolve into industrial revolution; and high wages and child labour have both emerged as contenders in determining the path to industrialisation. The C20th again witnessed an influx of women into the labour force, this time accompanied by the use of new technology in housework and the limitation of family size. This has had consequences for human capital acquisition, the stability of marriage and, at the macroeconomic level, growth, but it has had a more muted effect in redressing gender inequality. This course examines the role played by the family in determining the development of the economy over the long run. Its focus is primarily on the British experience, although evidence from elsewhere and alternative models are discussed where relevant. Simple economic models of individual and household behaviour provide the theoretical basis for understanding outcomes, for instance, labour-leisure trade off, human capital acquisition, consumption and demand functions, and Becker’s household time allocation theory.


This course is delivered through a combination of classes and lectures totalling a minimum of 40 hours across Michaelmas Term and Lent Term. This year, some or all of this teaching will be delivered through a combination of virtual classes and flipped-lectures delivered as short online videos. This course includes a reading week in Week 6 of Michaelmas and Lent Term.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 essay and 1 presentation in the MT and 1 essay and 1 presentation in the LT.

Students are expected to write two essays or equivalent pieces of written work.

Students are expected to participate in group presentations of specific readings to the rest of the class twice during the course.

Indicative reading

  • Broadberry, Stephen, Campbell, Bruce M.S., Klein Alexander, Overton, Mark and van Leeuwen, Bas (2015) British Economic Growth, 1270-1850, Cambridge University Press, chapters 1, 10.
  • De Moor, Tine, and van Zanden, Jan Luiten (2010) ‘Girl Power: The European Marriage Pattern and Labour Markets in the North Sea Region in the Late Medieval and Early Modern Period,’ Economic History Review, 63, pp. 1-33.
  • De Vries, Jan (2008) The Industrious Revolution: consumer behaviour and the household economy, 1650 to the present, Cambridge University Press
  • Muldrew, Craig (2011) Food, energy and the creation of industriousness, Cambridge University Press
  • Humphries, Jane (2010) Childhood and Child Labour in the British Industrial Revolution, Cambridge University Press.
  • Horrell, Sara, Jane Humphries and Jacob Weisdorf (2019) Family standards of living over the long-run, England 1280-1850', Past and Present, forthcoming
  • June Purvis (ed) (1997) Women's History, Britain 1850-1945. An introduction, Routledge


Exam (60%, duration: 2 hours) in the summer exam period.
Essay (30%, 3000 words) in the LT.
Class participation (10%).

The summative essay chosen from a selection of topics covered during the course.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2020/21 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the situation of students in attendance on campus and those studying online during the early part of the academic year. For assessment, this may involve changes to mode of delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Economic History

Total students 2019/20: Unavailable

Average class size 2019/20: Unavailable

Capped 2019/20: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Application of numeracy skills
  • Specialist skills