EH457      Half Unit
Living Standards since the Industrial Revolution: The British experience c.1750-2000

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Ian Gazeley SAR 6.05


This course is available on the MSc in Economic History, MSc in Economic History (Research), MSc in Global Economic History (Erasmus Mundus) and MSc in Political Economy of Late Development. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Course content

This course examines living standards from roughly the industrial revolution until the millenium through the prism of the British experience. The gradual move from subsistence agriculture to advanced industrial production was accompanied by a move towards urban living and radical demographic and social change, which transformed the lives of the population within a few generations. The population of Western economies experienced an exponential increase in average real incomes, which was driven by technical progress. This transformed the living standards of the majority of the population from bare subsistence to plenty, and was accompanied by a growing role for the state in providing for those excluded from the benefits of economic progress.  Over the course of these three hundred years, the path of average incomes in Western countries also diverged from those in Asia, creating profound global imbalances in income and wealth. 

The course is organised roughly chronologically, but within this, it concentrates on particular aspects of living standards that have proved most controversial within the existing literature; either because of an imperfect historical record, differences in method or approach, or sometimes because of ideological differences. This course will explore topics relating to: the transformation of work; the progress of average incomes; the distribution of income and wealth; changes in food consumption and nutrition; the relationship between demographic change and living standards; the transformation of the role of the state and the reasons for divergence in living standards across time and place. It will also explore the reasons why historians disagree about these topics.


20 hours of seminars in the LT.

This course is delivered through a combination of classes and lectures totalling a minimum of 20 hours across 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 Lent Term.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to complete two essays or equivalent pieces of work.

Indicative reading

Allen, Robert., The British Industrial Revolution in Global Perspective (Cambdrige 2009)

Atkinson, A.B. and Piketty, Thomas., Top Incomes: A Global Perspective (Oxford, 2014)

Floud, Roderick  et al, The Changing Body: Health, Nutrition and Human Development in the Western World since 1700 (Cambridge 2011)

Glennester, H, Hills, J, and Piachaud., D  One Hundred Years of Poverty and Policy (2004)

Goldin, Claudia and Katz, Lawrence F., The Race between Education and Technology (Harvard, 2010)

Muldrew, Craig., Food, Energy and the Creation of Industriousness: Work and Material Culture in Agrarian England 1550-1780 (Cambridge 2011)

Scholliers, Peter and Vamagni, Vera., (ed)  Labour's Reward: Real Wages and Economic Change in 19th and 20th Century Europe (1995)

Taylor, Arthur, J., (ed)  The Standard of Living in Britain in the Industrial Revolution (1975)

Vernon, James.,  Hunger: A Modern History (Cambridge, 2004)

Williamson, Jefferey, G., Did British Capitalism Breed Inequality? (1985)


Take-home assessment (90%) in the ST.
Class participation (10%) in the LT.

The online assessment for this course will be a Take Home Exam administered via Moodle.  A review session will take place in Week 1 of the ST in preparation for this assessment.  Assessment questions will be administered via Moodle in Week 2 of the ST.  Students will choose 2 of 8 questions.  Answers to questions will be submitted in Week 5 of the ST.

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: 8

Average class size 2019/20: 8

Controlled access 2019/20: Yes

Value: Half 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