The Economic History Review

Household consumption patterns and the consumer price index, England, 1260–1869

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Authors: Sara Horrell
Published online: January 9, 2023DOI: 10.1111/ehr.13236

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Existing long-run consumer price indices for England rely on a fixed consumption basket. Here we construct a methodologically improved, chained-Laspeyres price index for ordinary households based on their changing expenditure patterns between 1260 and 1869. Rather than offering a revisionist perspective on long-run costs, it confirms the broad accuracy of existing indices for the pre-industrial period. The dominant dependence of the key items of expenditure on agricultural, particularly arable, prices explains this finding. The industrial period introduced a new dynamic. The shift in household expenditure towards imported groceries and manufactured goods allowed for more substitution in response to relative price and income changes. Adding the current series to those chained-Laspeyres indices available for later periods provides a CPI for ordinary households in England over nearly eight centuries; from 1260 to the present day.