The HHB Project

Overview

The aim of the Historical Household Budgets (HHB) project is to rewrite the history of both inequality and poverty over the last two centuries, and to make that history international. Existing accounts perch on a narrow evidentiary base: few countries, few indicators (often proxies), short time frames, poor comparability across sources and countries, unrepresentative groups such as the top 1 percent. A hitherto underutilized source of data, household budgets, can provide the foundation for better estimates of long-run changes in income distribution.

The initial focus of the HHB project is the construction of a multi-topic database of household budgets from 1800 to the present day, together with associated measures of living standards. The Historical Household Budgets Database (HHBD) comprises ca. 500 variables including consumption, income and wealth, wages and retail prices, education and health, anthropometrics and fertility, employment and migration, housing, agriculture, access to credit, and exposure to shocks. The HHBD, along with an extensive collection of references is made available to scholars around the world.

A complementary initiative is the creation of a network of researchers who provide and share data, further develop techniques for working with household budgets not collected in the context of modern probabilistic surveys, and undertake substantive research into the history of poverty and inequality. Without imposing top-down direction, the HHB project provides a degree of coordination and direction to the collective effort of this network. A dedicated working paper series promotes the dissemination of on-going research.

Background

Sir Tony Atkinson

Nuffield College, University of Oxford and LSE

Economic historians are no longer alone in paying attention to the long-run dynamics of inequality and poverty. The surge of income inequality in many countries since the 1980s has generated a revival of interest in the topic, this time involving other fields in economics (Atkinson 1997; OECD 2012) as well as neighboring disciplines. Statistics and econometrics, for instance, have provided new methods and tools to analyze the sort of flawed or incomplete data typical of the material available for analyses of inequality that span more than a century (Cowell and Victoria-Feser 1996; Atkinson 2007; Jenkins 2009). As a result, the community of scholars engaged today in the study of long-run trends of inequality and poverty is wider, better equipped and more active than ever been before.

Jeffrey Williamson

Harvard University and University of Wisconsin

The most important obstacle to the advancement of our knowledge of long-run trends remains the lack of adequate historical data. Scholars have not been discouraged by the scarcity of suitable data, however. Limiting our attention to monetary indicators, three main strands of research have emerged in the literature.
A first generation of studies used eclectic sources and ingenious methods: Soltow (1968), Williamson and Lindert (1980) and Williamson (1985), for example. The common denominator of these studies is the use of proxies for living standards, ranging from so-called “occupational pay ratios” to the Window Tax collected under the inhabited house duty in Britain. Reactions have not always been enthusiastic, as clearly shown in Feinstein (1988).
A second thread in the literature has explored the use of the “social tables”: tabulations ranking various social groups from the richest to the poorest with their estimated population shares and average incomes. Milanovic, Lindert and Williamson (2011) and Lindert and Williamson (2011) have applied this approach to pre-industrial epochs. This new method is less appealing for the 19th and 20th centuries, when higher-quality data are available.

Branko Milanovic

City University NY and LIS

Piketty and collaborators have developed a third approach, based on tax records (Piketty 2001; Atkinson, Piketty and Saez, 2011). By adapting Kuznets’s (1953) methodology, Piketty et al. have managed to estimate the shares of top income earners in the total, often on a yearly basis, for a wide selection of countries.
None of the three approaches is entirely satisfying. In the words of Piketty (2007): “existing international databases on inequality [are] not high quality (they display little homogeneity over time or across countries), they are not long-run (typically they cover only a couple of isolated years per country, generally restricted to the post-1970 or post-1980 period), and they almost never offer any decomposition of income inequality into a labour income and a capital income component”. We fully endorse this judgment. None of the approaches currently available in the economic literature simultaneously passes all the criteria mentioned in Piketty’s critique.

Thomas Piketty

Paris School of Economics

True, the World Top Incomes Database (WTID) addresses some of these problems, but three limitations remain. First, inequality measures based on tax records are silent about what happens to the bottom 90% of the population, or even the bottom 99%. Second, by failing to reconstruct the entire income distribution, the WTID does not allow us to estimate the long-run trend in absolute poverty, a paramount concern for welfare analysts. A multi-century estimation of the incidence and depth of absolute poverty is uncharted territory for almost all countries in the world. Third, the top income share series start, with only a few exceptions, around the time of the First World War. (Rossi, Toniolo and Vecchi, 2001).

Methodological issues

A collection of household budgets such as the HHBD must be turned into a statistical sample before any analysis can be carried out. To achieve this goal, HHB is working on four main fronts:

  • 1

    Post-stratification

    HHB is developing an innovative methodology based on population censuses and post-stratification techniques. Schematically, the methodology can be described as a 4-step procedure:

    • I - Data collection and organization. Collect as many household budgets for as many countries as time and resources permit. The heterogeneity of the sources requires that each single budget be recast to fit a single format. The HHBD provides the unified scheme where household budgets are re-classified and variables harmonized;

    • II - Construction of expansion factors. Because historical household budgets were not collected according to a probabilistic sampling scheme, some categories of the population are typically under-represented, while others are completely unrepresented. This considerably complicates any efforts at statistical inference. With respect to under-coverage, post-stratification (Holt and Smith 1979) provides a viable solution. Non-coverage is harder to deal with than under-coverage, as it reflects deficiencies in sample information that can be remedied only by resorting to extra-sample sources;

    • III - Estimation of inequality and poverty measures. Once weights have been constructed, it is possible to obtain the empirical probability distribution functions (epdf) of income using weighted data. Most inequality estimates would however be extremely sensitive to two problems, namely (a) “peaks and troughs”, sparse data and similar flaws in the empirical distributions, and (b) the changing nature of the data underlying the multi-century analysis (from the “granular data” for the pre-WWII years to the modern micro-datasets). In order to overcome these difficulties, we propose to replace non-parametric estimates based on empirical distributions with maximum likelihood estimates based on flexible parametric functions (Jenkins 2009; Vecchi 2011).

    • IV - Evaluation of estimate precision. Empirical studies of poverty and inequality commonly report indices and trends without great concern for the statistical significance of these estimates. Yet, fallible estimates based on flawed data cannot be taken at the face value (Cowell and Victoria-Feser 1996; Mills and Zandvakili 1997). We plan to explore the margins of errors associated with the budgetary data following Feinstein and Thomas (2002); we also plan to estimate the standard errors of the poverty and inequality estimates either by bootstrapping the post-stratified “samples” or by conducting Monte Carlo experiments à la Bourguignon and Morrisson (2002).

  • 2

    Interpolating Inequality

    Histogram-style information is a highly valuable source, and its use as a basis for inequality and poverty estimation presents no particular difficulties. The literature has developed many techniques to fit parametric functions to grouped data (e.g. Hajargasht, Gholamreza and Griffiths 2013Chotikapanich, Duangkamon et al. 2013; Modalsli 2014), and most inequality and poverty indices can be written as a function of estimated parameters.

  • 3

    Ungrouping grouped data

    New techniques aimed at extracting household-level records from published grouped data are being developed (Shorrocks and Wan 2008). HHB is investing heavily on this front, experimenting recent developments in the literature.

  • 4

    Purchasing Power Parities (PPPs)

    A fourth front refers to the construction of purchasing power parities (PPP), a tool that allows comparison of living standards "not only of India and America now, but of India now and Britan before the Industrial Revolution (Deaton and Heston 2010: 2).

    The rich detail of the HHB data permit, in some cases, direct calculation and comparison of real magnitudes such as food calories per equivalised household member. In other cases aggregates expressed in monetary terms, such as total consumption, are either the focus of interest or the only available data. Comparing or aggregating such monetary measures across countries (or indeed over time in the same country, for example in defining an absolute poverty line valid over many decades), requires the construction of PPP standards, which are currently unavailable prior to 1950 (Deaton 2010; Deaton and Heston 2010). An example can be found in the work of the economic historian Robert Allen, who compared real wages over several centuries across a range of European countries (Allen 2001). Allen gathered annual commodity prices for the cities in his dataset and constructed a Laspeyres (fixed weight) cost of living index in which the only elements of flexibility were substitutions such as calories from rye for calories from wheat, or olive oil for butter, where relevant. Covering as it does an era in which there was considerable change in consumption patterns, HHB faces a more difficult challenge, but the first, arduous, step of collecting reliable price data on a set of homogeneous goods and services will be the same.

Family Budgets - Selected Examples

Buck's surveys

In early 1930s, the american agricultural economist J.L. Buck launched a number of large scale surveys on the productivity of rural workers in China. Based at the Nanjing Agricultural University and linked to the Institute of Pacific Relations, Buck and his (more than 100) assistants interviewed more than 17,000 rural families between 1932 and 1934, resulting in the publication "Land utilization and population in China". The original hand-written materials have been recently discovered at the NAU Library and an international project coordinated by prof. Funing Zhong will make them publicly available in the next years, allowing to build a fundamental part of the story of Chinese and Asian living standards in the first half of 20th century.

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Buck's surveys

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A request for grant-in-aid

An Italian lady named Annunziata, married to Luigi Giamboni, wrote a letter addressed to the Mayor of Florence in order to ask for a grant. Indeed, her husband had been recovered in the psychiatric hospital of Bonifazio. In the letter, Mrs. Giamboni described the miserable living conditions of the family. Written during the first decades of the Kindgom of Italy, the letter helps shed light on the state of public assistance before the modern welfare state.

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A request for grant-in-aid

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Zemstvo budgets

In his Peasant budgets (1900), the russian statistician Fedor Shcherbina collected 230 filled questionnaires of 677 items. Shcherbina's budgets cover family composition, household inventory and furnitures, home production, expenditures, income in kind, allowing a full understanding of income, consumption and wealth of the russian rural families at the eve of the Revolution. The documented existence of millions of household budgets on early-19th century Russian and Central Asia peasants might be a fundamental source for verifying academic hypotheses on the economic determinants of political evolution in former tsarist empire.

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Zemstvo budgets

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Bureau of Labor Statistics

Data in this report were gathered by questionnaires and referred to the year 1885. The data were provided by 337 Kansas wage earners engaged in 39 different trades. Thanks to the work of scholars like Edward Young and Carroll D. Wright, national statistical offices collected a huge amount of data on wage-earning and salaried group in the United States since the Eighteen-Seventies. These data were not simply related to the study of the living conditions of families. The Commissioner of Labor Statistics was directed by Congress to investigate the "cost of producing articles at the time dutiable in the US in leading countries where such articles are produced(...) and the comparative cost of living and the kind of living". In accordance with these instructions, an extensive investigation was undertaken in the US and abroad.

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Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Bankrupt entrepreneurs

Among the sources used for investigating Italian cases, probably the most unusual one consists in bankruptcy proceedings. In Italy, bankruptcy has been regulated within the reforms made over the years to the Code of Commerce. According to the law, every trader, craftsman or entrepreneur in general, at the time of his bankruptcy, had to present a detailed account of his domestic expenses.The picture shows the balance sheet of a Napolitan textile firm owned by Luigi Balestrieri that went brankrupt in 1882. The central part describing the family’s expenditures is divided into six categories (food, clothing, dwelling, health, education and other expenses).

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Bankrupt entrepreneurs

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Female home workers

At the beginning of the 20th century, large scale surveys became more frequent in western countries, in order to collect detailed information on specific regions, markets or population groups. This 5-volume-survey, conducted by the Ministère du Travail, was focused on "le travail à domicile dans l'industrie de la lingerie", providing detailed information on the living conditions of the workers - all women who produced underwear at home or in small workrooms. Visits were made to 2,012 families from all around the country, resulting in 1,783 household-level schedules. The variables include family size, overall family income, workers' salary and housing condition. Among these families, many report extreme poverty conditions, listing charitable associations' aid as relevant source of income.

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Female home workers

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Economic Club

This survey was conceived shortly after a meeting of the Economic Club in 1891, where the subject of Workmen’s Budgets was introduced. In 1892, a circular letter accompanied by a schedule of questions and instruction was addressed to the club members. Charles Booth, one of the pioneers of studies on poverty and inequality, explains the methodology used to collect the data: "… the importance of choosing families that were as typical as possible and whose accuracy might be counted upon, both in filling up the schedule and in keeping the accounts, was emphasized. It was also urged that the accounts should be kept day by day, and item by item, for as long a period as possible, and in no case for less than a month. In the schedule twenty-seven questions were enumerated and a specimen of the method of keeping the accounts was added".

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Economic Club

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Files of employees

Among the sources which greatly contribute to the analysis of Italian cases, there were the personnel records of public institutions and private enterprises. Particularly, we are dealing with an original and innovative source for studying the living conditions of the population. For each new employee, the personnel department had to create a new record to keep information on the person’s family members, as well as a reconstruction of the overall income. The advantage of this source is that it concerns workers with very different skills, responsibilities and wage levels. The collected household budgets not only include families of senior directors of ministries, but also of teachers, forestry guards, police officers, archivists, caretakers and porters. This picture shows the cover of the booklet with biographical statement of the employee.

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Files of employees

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The Czechoslovak Gazette

The Czechoslovak Republic was just two years old in 1920 when, on the initiative of Finance Minister K. Englis, the "Hospodárska zpravodajská stanice" (agency for the economic information) was established with the specific task of investigating the consumption of Czechoslovak families. From 1922 to 1931, the data on income and consumption of 891 families were published in the "Zpravy státního úřadu statistického" which gathered information booklets revised on an annual basis.

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The Czechoslovak Gazette

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Intellectual workers

Under the supervision of the Central Bureau of Statistics and the Institute of Social Economy, the Regional Council of the Trade Unions of intellectual workers made a survey in May of 1932 on the budget of 71 knowledge workers. This study is both detailed and complete. Comparisons are drawn with manual laborers, which give surprising results: the proportion of expenditure for cultural needs was only 1.8 times as great as in the accounts of the hand workers; while the proportions of other expenditures is much more than 1.8 times as great. Higher intellectual standards would thus not seem to account for the difference between the two sets of accounts.

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Intellectual workers

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Mumbai

The object of this inquiry is to investigate the annual changes in agricultural wages throughout the Bombay Presidency from 1900 to 1922. Statistics related to field labor, ordinary labor and skilled labor were collected for all the districts of the Presidency. The value of the study lies in the basis it affords for a study of secular changes in living standard in India.

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Mumbai

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Il Contadino

Local newspapers that are specialized in specific areas of interest have often been a very important source to identify small and medium surveys on living conditions of the populations. Here is one of the finest examples: "Il Contadino - giornale d'agricoltura pratica- organo del comizio agrario di Treviso" published on January 15, 1882 presents a very detailed survey on income and expenditure of 82 farm families scattered all over Italy.

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Il Contadino

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1932 78
1878 16
1900 123
1886 134
1883 16
1907 124
1894 82
1878 16
1932 122
1932 127
1922 126
1882 70

How are Household budgets defined?

In current parlance, household budgets refer to the information on family incomes and/or expenditures collected by means of modern probabilistic surveys, almost ubiquitously termed “household budget surveys” (HBS). Modern HBSs typically collect data with a combination of interviews and diaries or logs maintained by the households. Prior to the advent of complex-design sample surveys, budgetary data were collected for different purposes, with different methodologies and in different formats, so a broader definition is required.

The measurement of family incomes and expenditure dates back to the late 18th century (Stigler, 1954). The Reverend Davies and the sociologist Morton Eden were probably the first scholars to collect data on household budgets, between 1795 and 1797. But it is the publication, in 1855, of the works by Èdouard Ducpetiaux and Frédéric Le Play, from which Ernst Engel derived his first empirical “law”, that marks the “threshold of the era of budget studies” (Stigler 1954: 101).

Though pilot surveys were carried out in the 1940s, in most countries household budget surveys were implemented only well after WWII. They came to be conducted on a regular basis, with data recorded in machine-readable format only from the 1970s. The piecemeal use of household budgets in quantitative economic history bears responsibility for the absence of any taxonomy of household budgets available in different countries. In-depth research is required before a comprehensive and reliable map of the sources containing budgetary data worldwide can be completed.

A working definition of a “household budget” for purposes of the HHBD requires information on 5 variables:

  • 1.
    Year of compilation
  • 2.
    Geographical location of the household
  • 3.
    Household head's occupation
  • 4.
    Household size
  • 5.
    Total expenditures on goods and services

Families - Selected Files

Historical Household Budget Database

The HHBD design is based on a number of recent international efforts to collect data on living standards, with appropriate modifications relevant for work with historical sources. In part icular, the HHBD draws from the World Bank’s Living Standard Measurement Study (LSMS) (Grosh and Glewwe, 2000) and the LIS’s tremendous efforts to harmonize microdatasets from upper- and middle-income countries (Smeeding, Schmaus and Allegreza, 1985). The HHBD is organized into the following 20 sections:

  • 1. Metadata

    Basic information on the source, as well as on defining features of the budget, such as the reference year, the currency unit and much more.

  • 2. Household Roster

    Selected socio-demographic variables at the household and individual level.

  • 3. Health, Anthropometrics and Fertility

    Health status of household members, access to health services, as well as anthropometric indicators and fertility.

  • 4. Education

    Educational achievements and school participation.

  • 5. Migration

    Internal and international migration history.

  • 6. Expenditure

    Household expenditures, by item. Also taxes are reported here.

  • 7. Durables

    Durable goods owned by the household.

  • 8. Wealth

    Household wealth by asset type.

  • 9. Housing

    Housing conditions of the household.

  • 10. Credit

    Access to credit and financial services.

  • 11. Income

    Household sources of income.

  • 12. Employment

    Employment status, experience and skills, by individual; working conditions and job characteristics (sector, duration, wage, etc.), by job; task details, by task, when available.

  • 13. Agriculture

    Agricultural activities of household members in detail, by activity.

  • 14. Non-Agricultural Enterprise

    Non-agricultural household enterprises, by activity.

  • 15. Time Use

    Allocation of time of the household members.

  • 16. Shocks

    Unexpected events impacting on the household in the past year.

  • 17. Community Data

    Access to facilities available in the community.

  • 18. Subjective Wellbeing

    Qualitative assessment of household's wellbeing and life satisfaction.

Companion manual download

Companion manual download

A companion manual (codebook) is available for DOWNLOAD:

Sources

HHB researchers are engaged in systematic bibliographic research, carried out in synergy with historians, focused on identifying sources containing household budgets.

Such an undertaking has been done before.In 1935, the United States Department of Agriculture published a report under the title “Studies of family living in the United States and other countries: an analysis of material and method.” Carle C. Zimmerman, associate professor at Harvard University, and Faith M. Williams, chief economist of the Bureau of Home Economics, coordinated a team of 15 scholars from prestigious US universities. They produced an impressive study with more than 1,500 bibliographic references on household budgets covering 52 countries scattered around the world (Williams and Zimmerman 1932). Most references point to household budgets collected between the 1850s and the early 1930s (Table 2).
Other compilations – such as Bulletin de la Statistique Générale de la France (1911-1933, 1937, 1945, 1948-1950, 1953), ILO (1926), Halbwachs (1913, 1933), Staehle (1934, 1935) and others – point to additional sources with thousands of additional household budgets.

Expanding the scope of the present study to the world scale is a long-term task, but will hopefully allow us to explore the long-run dynamics of income and poverty for countries for which, to the best of our knowledge, little if anything is known. This is the case of most developing countries.

Household budgets compliant with the above requirements can be found in the most disparate sources. While the literature has focused on large-scale official inquiries (Bulmer, Bales and Sklar 1991), Italy offers an example in which the majority of household budgets turned out to be contained in studies carried out by private scholars and/or institutions. Household budgets were also recovered from:

  • A - Administrative records:

    details on all income sources and the family composition for all 19th- and mid-20th centuries Italian civil servants – for all ministries and public agencies, for all occupations in the hierarchy, from doorkeepers all the way up to ministers – were carefully recorded by the administration, in compliance with the law.

  • B - private household archives:

    most aristocratic and well-off families used to have an accountant who compiled detailed family budgets on a yearly basis.

  • C - business archives:

    employers were often interested in monitoring the living standards of their employees.

  • D - Apparently unrelated publications:

    budgetary data have been sometimes found in the annexes of studies on health conditions in a particular population group or locality (Vecchi and Coppola, 2006), in monographs by engineers and agronomists interested in the soil productivity of a certain area, in writings of contemporary social commentators, etc.

HHB Hall Of Fame

HHB Hall Of Fame

In most countries, gathering family budgets has remained an episodic phenomenon until the mid-19th century. In this gallery we pay tribute to scholars who have distinguished themselves in the study of living standards by means of household budgets. Scientists, politicians and philosophers, as well as sociologists, historians, demographers and economists, took to the field. Thanks to their work, the HHB project can take up the challenge to investigate the long-run changes in the fortunes of the world citizens.

Le Play, Fréderic

April 11, 1806 - April 5, 1882 124

Biography

After his studies in engineering at the École des Mines of Paris, Fréderic Le Play developed a great interest in social sciences. From 1833 to 1838, he travelled extensively across Europe, coming into contact with many different social and family models. Under the influence of Positivism, Le Play harnessed his curiosity into a rigorous scientific method. His budgets, consisting of very detailed information collected from a few selected households throughout a long observation period, were then transformed into exhaustive monographs, one for each of the families Le Play lived with. His method gained widespread success: Le Play’s society, the Société international des etudes pratiques d’économie sociale, published 164 monographs on Les Ouvriers Européens and Les Ouvriers des Deux Mondes, just a small part of the hundreds of studies submitted by leplaysian correspondents all around the world.

Wright, Carroll Davidson

July 25, 1840 - Feb. 20, 1909 130

Biography

Colonel Carroll Davidson Wright was elected to Massachusetts Senate in 1872, and later appointed Commissioner of the state Bureau of Statistics of Labor, in 1873. During his 15-year tenure, he adopted a highly-praised objective approach, making enormous contributions to welfare analysis by gathering data on family income, expenditure, wages, cost of living, poverty and housing. The annual reports published by the Bureau are a considerable source for historical research and play a key role in cross-country comparisons. The 1875 report, in particular, presents an international comparison of family expenditures by confronting 397 families in Massachusetts with Engel’s data on European workingmen’s families. This report became an exemplary model that encouraged other state Bureaus to follow suit and paved the way for the modern research in the field of poverty and inequality.

Buck, John Lossing

Nov. 27, 1890 - Sept. 27, 1975 128

Biography

John Buck was an American agriculture economist (PhD, Cornell University), with a great interest in China. His first trip to the country was in 1915, but only later he founded the Dept. of Agricultural Economics at Nanjing Agricultural University, launching surveys to collect data on Chinese peasants. The great success of the first surveys encouraged him to promote, in 1929, a large-scale survey, part of a research on “Land utilization and Population in China” in collaboration with the IPR. The importance of this study is due both to its cross-sectional coverage and to the huge amount of data, proceeding from 16,786 farms in 168 counties and 38,526 farm families in 22 provinces. The original data was partially recovered at NAU in the 1990s, where an international project aimed at restoring the microdata has started. Thanks to the partnership between HHB and Nanjing University, Buck's data will soon be available in the HHBD.

Shcherbina, Fedor Andreevich

Feb. 13, 1849 - Oct. 28, 1936 123

Biography

In 1864, the Russian Empire created the zemstvos, local government institutions supported also by own statistical offices. Fedor Shcherbina was the most eminent of the zemstvo statisticians. Educated in an enviroment sympathetic to the Populist movement, he committed himself to the socio-economic study of the common people. In 1879 he published his first monograph on agriculture, and in 1884 was appointed director of the statistical department of the Voronezh zemstvo. In 18 years, he edited 66 volumes of statistics and wrote 16 monographs, including Krest’ianskie biudzhety ("Peasant budgets"), that served as a sort of "manual" for the Russian statistics on household budgets. Lenin himself used Scherbina's data to argue the deprivation of the agricultural proletariat. Between 1870 and 1917, zemvsto statisticians interviewed an estimated amount of 4.5 millions of Russian peasants.

Bodio, Luigi

Oct. 12, 1840 - Nov. 2, 1922 16

Biography

First General Secretary of the International Statistical Institute (ISI), Luigi Bodio was among the fathers of Italian official statistics, in charge of the Giunta Centrale di Statistica and then of the Direzione Generale della Statistica of the Kingdom of Italy – the ancestors of Istat – for more than 25 years. In 1862, he spent one year as a student in Paris, funded directly by the Italian Ministry of Education, and had the chance to meet some of the most eminent economists and statisticians at time, including Frederic Le Play. By virtue of his position in the academia and in the government, Bodio was probably the most influential Italian follower of Le Play, and contributed to extend his methods in Italy. He promoted also several surveys and directly collected household budgets. Unfortunately, most of Bodio’s household budgets disappeared from the Italian official archives, and are not (yet!) included in HHB.

Cerdà, Ildefonso

Dec. 23, 1815 - Aug. 21, 1876 83

Biography

Politician with progressive ideals and pioneer in urbanism, during his early career the architect Ildefons Cerdà had worked in the construction of several infrastructures in various Spanish provinces. In 1859, he began a project that would spark the birth of modern urbanism: The Plan for Reform and Development in Barcelona. Admirer of Le Play, Cerdà wanted to carry out an in-depth, interviews-based study on industrial workers in Barcelona, in order to gather information for his plan. With the help of the laborers representatives, he constructed a rich database reporting the wages of about 54,000 workers, published as "Statistical monograph of the working class in Barcelona". The publication also features two thorough household profiles, one for a typical unmarried worker and one for a typical family, constituting a classic example of "standard budgets".

References

The last weaver

The last weaver

1906 - 75

After having benefitted of a local education, Maud Davies left Corsley – a village 3 miles west of Warminster in Wiltshire, England – to study the newfangled subject of sociology at the London School of Economics. She was probably the first girl from the area to undertake and complete university studies. After her return, in 1909, she conducted an in-depth investigation into the daily lives of the villagers. As in other parts of England, Corsley had witnessed a sustained industrial development in the 19th century, and a number of factories had created many job opportunities for the locals. But this had not stopped a prolonged decline and depopulation.

Among the poor families studied by Davies, there is the one headed by John Mines, a retired weaver – the last still living in the village. Mr. Mines and his wife live in a modest cottage, where the old couple manages to maintain itself by means of some savings and the product of the garden. This is considered “sufficient” by the scholar, who describes the man as “very respectable” (even though he was rumoured to be a poacher!). Despite unemployment, John was able to keep himself without recurring to loans.

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Fellah

Fellah

An agricultural worker

1895 - 76

The family is composed by 5 members: Ahmed (25), Fatouma (22), their sons Taher (5) and the 13-months-old Amine, and Ahmed’s mother Gamileh (50). Ahmed Mahmoud, the household head, works as a labourer in the works of excavation at the Great Temple of Amun. Ahmed’s mother, Gamileh Abouzeid, lives with the family. She gave birth to 8 children including Ahmed, and now is the grandmother of 24 grandchildren.

The family is very humble: fellah in Arabic means “poor peasant”, according to the interviewer – a French official of the Service des Antiquités.  A large part of the monograph is spent in describing social arrangements and religious practices – all the family member are Muslim, and this clearly was a matter of interest for an European audience as the readers of Les Ouvriers des Deux Mondes. This periodic, issued by the Société International des Etudes Pratiques d’Économie Sociale, collected leplaysian monographs from all around the world – but only 8 were devoted to African households.

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Proprietari coltivatori

Proprietari coltivatori

Private farmers

1934 - 16

Francesco (58), the head, lives with his four sons – Guido (33), Secondo (31), Adriano (23) and Ivo (21) – two daughters - Umiltà (34) and Adriana (26) – two daughters-in-law - Italia (30) and Assuntina (31) – and the grandchildren Massimina (7), Francesco (4) and Silvano (3). «If happiness existed on earth, you could really say his family to be happy», in the words of the interviewer - Dr. Cerri, an agricultural economists from the University of Pisa. Francesco is indeed an independent farmer; he owes 5 hectares of land, producing both cereals (corn, what) and high-value-added crops (artichoke, asparagus, tomato), including the local San Giovese wine-tree. The family diet is various, and meat is consumed even four times a week.

The budget is part of the more than 100 monographs issued by the INEA, a.k.a. National Institute of Agricultural Economics. Created by the fascist government in 1928 and directed by the distinguished economist Arrigo Serpieri, INEA issued guidelines inspired to Le Play’s methodology. «Sound, physically and morally», educated and really tight, the story of Francesco is compared by Dr. Cerri to the American dream farmer who acquired land ownership after hard fieldwork. A good story for the autarchic propaganda of the Fascist regime.

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