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This article provides a novel framework within which to evaluate real household incomes of predominantly rural working families of various sizes and structures in England in the years 1260–1850. We reject ahistorical assumptions about complete reliance on men’s wages and male breadwinning, moving closer to reality by including women and children’s contributions to family incomes. Our empirical strategy benefits from recent estimates of men’s annual earnings, so avoiding the need to gross up day rates using problematic assumptions about days worked, and from new data on women and children’s wages and labour inputs. A family life-cycle approach which accommodates consumption smoothing through saving adds further breadth and realism. Moreover, the analysis embraces two historically common but often overlooked family types alternative to the traditional male-breadwinner model: one where the husband is missing having died or deserted, and one where the husband is present but unwilling or unable to find work. Our framework suggests living standards varied widely by family structure and dependency ratio. Incorporating detailed demographic data available for 1560 onward suggests that small and intact families enjoyed high and rising living standards after 1700, while large or disrupted families depended on child labour and poor relief until c. 1830. A broader perspective on family structures informs understanding of the chronology and nature of poverty and coping strategies.