Work and prudence: Household responses to income variation in nineteenth-century Britain
A survey of industrial households conducted in 1889 90 is used to investigate participation in self-help organisations, such as sickness and death benefit clubs and friendly societies, and to examine whether payouts were important in seeing families through earnings crises. Formal self-help has been hypothesised to underpin the male breadwinner family form, reducing the risk incumbent in reliance on one source of earnings. The results here show that those households with multiple earners took out most insurance and also had recourse to informal strategies, such as eliciting greater labour force participation from other family members and economising on rent, when adversity carried male earnings down. Those reliant on a male breadwinner were left vulnerable. They insured less, benefits were insufficient to make up earnings shortfalls and they were unable to compensate for deficits through labour market strategies. Formal self-help was a complement to, not a substitute for, family employment.
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