Anniversary Lecture Series: Professor Jane Humphries CBE

Unpaid labour, board & lodging – women’s contribution to economic growth in England 1260-1860

Professor Jane Humphries CBE (NC 1967) will deliver the third of our four special 150th Anniversary Lectures, examining women’s unpaid work and the cost of living in England 1260-1860. In today’s age of rising living costs and scrutiny of gender parity, divisions of labour and the burden of caring and domestic work, much of it done by women without remuneration, looking to the past can help us begin to calculate the value of unpaid labour and radically reinvigorate historical estimates of women’s contributions to economic growth and human wellbeing.


‘The historical cost of board and lodging and what it tells us about women’s contribution to material wellbeing and economic growth, England 1260-1860.’

Women’s paid and unpaid work is brought into the estimation of living costs, the measurement of national output and historical accounts of care. The cost of living is indexed directly from records of what was paid to board and lodge humble but decent people. Empirical evidence and hedonic regression are used to value the components of lodging (meals, bed, washing, mending). Comparison with the contemporaneous cost of a ‘respectable’ consumption basket reflects how standards drifted away from economic historians’ conventional baseline, while simultaneously identifying the value of women’s work in transforming collections of commodities into increasingly varied livings. These market equivalents enable value to be imputed to analogous unpaid reproductive and caring work. Including the value of unpaid domestic labour in historical estimates of economic output challenges its longstanding but theoretically indefensible neglect by orthodox economists.

This event will take place as an in-person lecture at Newnham College (limited places with 1m social distancing), with a simultaneously streamed version.

This event is now available to view online.