A very basic question for historians is how to measure and compare the typical of living experienced by people in different historical settings. Can you really arrive at credible estimations of the standard of residing in the Roman Empire, medieval Burgundy, nineteenth-century Britain, and twentieth-century Illinois? Can we say with any confidence that Romans had a higher (or lower) quality lifestyle than a twelfth-century Burgundian?
One area of the problem is conceptual. What do we mean by the standard of living? Is there a specific group of characteristics that are constitutive of the typical of living — say, nourishment, income, access to health education and remedies, quality of housing, personal security? And how should we take accounts of the unequal distribution of the characteristics across confirmed populace? Should we be quite happy with an estimation of an average level of nutrition — even though this might reflect a misleading impression of the circumstances of the poorest segment of society?
Should we hope to have the ability to reach an estimation of the standard of living of certain typical social stars — landless employees, skilled laborers, retailers? The next major problem we must confront is the availability and quality of historical data about wages, prices, and intake. The series of prices and wages that are available in various countries are, of course, imperfect.
And, moreover, the commodities that satisfy basic nutritional needs are different in different regions and countries. So it is essential to make assumptions about the nutritional equivalents in different cultures before we can begin to arrive at estimates of relative quality lifestyle. Different approaches to these nagging problems have been offered in the past fifty years.
One logical approach is to consider a set of “necessities of life” and to estimate the degree to which these requirements are available to folks of various stations in a variety of times and places. Nutrition, housing, and clothing are near to the core for much of the history of humanity, and for much of that time, these goods have been available through the market at a price generally. So a standard approach has been to define a wage basket; measure the prices of the goods in the container; and measure the typical earnings of people in historical settings of interest.
This we can estimate the subsistence rate — the percentage of the population whose income is more than sufficient to purchase the items in the income container. What this leaves away is “self production” (for peasant farmers, for example) and state provision. Another reasonable approach is to check out the human results — the entire health status of people at various times and places. This is estimated by modern data — height, longevity, and age information collected by the armed service, for example — or by evaluation of skeletal evidence generations later.
This group has concentrated their attempts around the existing controversy about European and Asian development patterns in the early modern period. How did the standard of residing in Europe and Asia compare in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries? The primary concern of the book is to assess when the gap between the East and the West emerged and also to not only take financial perspectives into consideration but social and demographic ones as well.
Here the reasoning is a people that is near to the edge of subsistence in normal times may be likely to have higher mortality, lower fertility, and greater out-migration when compared to a population with a far more comfortable standard of living. So demographic change can be utilized as an indirect dimension of a population’s quality lifestyle. Using these three fairly independent tools of observation, it is acceptable to expect that we will gain a reasonably accurate idea of the standard of living in a region and exactly how it comes even close to other areas. In the worst case, high prices caused death for those struggling to buy enough to consume.
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In less extreme situations, people resorted to demographic strategies in response to high food prices. These included postponed relationships, migration, and delayed births. Studies of the correlation of loss of life, migration, relationship, and childbearing with food prices, therefore, provide a new approach to the dimension of the typical of living. When aggregate data show that high food prices raised mortality or reduced fertility, one can conclude that the bulk of the population got a low standard of living. Cameron James and Campbell Lee make use of this approach in their contribution, “Living standards in Liaoing, 1749-1909: Evidence from demographic outcomes,” to assess the standard of living of the majority of the population in Liaoning in northeast China.
Robert Allen attempts to establish something similar to an empirical baseline for the true wage in various parts of Europe and Asia in his contribution, “Real wages in Europe and Asia: A first look at the long-term patterns”. He compiles a huge dataset of wage data for a number of European cities, and he makes careful inferences about equivalent data for India, Japan, and China. Wages reveal the typical of living if they are compared to the price of consumer goods.