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Living Standards, Inequality, and Poverty around the World, 1815-2015: A New Household Budget Approach

This research project lays a foundation for new and better long-run estimates of poverty and inequality around the world through the collection, digitisation, and harmonisation of household budget data.

“Existing accounts of poverty and inequality around the world perch on a narrow evidentiary base: few countries, proxy indicators that are not comparable across countries, short time frames, and unrepresentative groups such as the top 1 percent. Even good data on incomes fail to tell us how families earned them, what sort of consumption patterns they were able to afford, or how they responded to changes in the economic environment.

Household budgets are a better starting point, with information on sources of income, consumption expenditures, savings and wealth, family composition, and labour force participation. Largely neglected up to now, they are more abundant than might be suspected: for the period 1850-1930, some 3.1 million budgets have been identified, from all parts of the globe. The core of the project is the collection, digitisation, and harmonisation of these budgets in a database, which will be accessible to researchers around the world via a web portal. A secondary focus is the elaboration and implementation of new statistical techniques suited to this type of data, which typically were not collected by random sampling.