Annual Income UK 18th Century

I am not sure if this belongs here but I am certain it will be moved as necessary.

I have just finished reading for the first time as an adult, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin which takes place in the latter part of the 18th Century in England. As I was reading, several questions about financial matters confused me. First, gentlemen had their wealth defined by their “income” of pounds per year. If someone was worth $10,000 pounds per year, where did that money come from? Did they have some sort of allowance out of a bank account somewhere? One of the characters didn’t even own property and was still said to have $5000 per year so it wasn’t income from an estate. If the family exceeded this income, was there additional money somewhere that they could draw on or was that money that belonged to future generations?

It seems men were also given something per year by the family of his bride. How is this amount determined and what happens when the father dies? Does the money stop or is there supposed to be money put away to continue this throughout the daughter’s lifetime?

The people you’re reading about in Pride and Prejudice were the upper middle-classes - not in trade, but ‘moneyed’. In comparison to most of the rest of the UK, they were the mega-rich, and of a social order or two higher that Austen herself.

Their income would have been based on the equivalent of trust funds, which would have been derived variously from inherited spoils of war of their ancestors, government bonuses from military action, investments, rents from multiple landholdings, income from the agriculture on their estates, etc. They rarely did a day’s work in their lives.

By contrast, The Price of Bread shows that a (presumably skilled) handloom weaver in 1798 - the closest year I can find to Austen’s writing - earned 30 shillings per week. Assuming 312 days worked per annum, since (IIRC) they worked six days a week without vacation, this amounts to £468 a year.

Thus, since the middle classes were in the distinct minority, the average income in the country would have been much, much lower than that of the people Austen wrote about.

Managing that amount of money is a job in itself. And they employed lots of people - this was before the days of modern conveniences. So the figure is their gross income, not their net income.

Unless my reading comprehension is wonky (more than possible!), you’ve overestimated the weaver’s income by a factor of six. As you say, it’s 30 shillings (£1.50) per week, not per day. So, with no vacation (i.e. 52 weeks worked per year), that’s £78 per year.

All in all, despite the expenses that Quartz mentions (that have me playing on the world’s smallest violin in pity for them), it wasn’t too shabby being upper-middle class! £5000 was about sixty-four times the weaver’s income.

What would the above figures amount to in today’s money?

Goodness, you’re right. Sorry, my eyes were dim after working down t’mill for 16 hours a day and having to eat a lump of coal when I got home.

According to The Value of the Pound (warning: for those with Victorian adding machines, this is a PDF), using the pound’s value at 1974 as a control, a 1798 pound was worth 8.7 pence, and a pound in 1998 was worth 592.3 pence, giving us a conversion factor of 68. (Antonius, please double-check my figures.)

This makes the weaver’s £78 in 1798 worth £5,310 per annum in today’s money.

The same calculation makes £5,000 worth £340,000. Meaning that the recipient could probably afford the world’s smallest violin.

Sorry, missed the edit window. “In today’s money” should be “in 1998 money”.

I have no idea how prevalent such annuities were at that time but the example depicted in P&P is somewhat convoluted.

When Lydia Bennet elopes with the feckless Wickham, Darcy seeks out the pair in the hope of persuading Lydia to return to the bosom of her family. Darcy sees that Lydia is hell bent on staying with Wickham so he then uses his financial muscle to convince Wickham that marrying Lydia would be a good idea. I’m not familiar with the exact settlement but Darcy pays off Wickham’s debts, buys him an officer’s commission and lays a few thousand on the couple for good measure.

Darcy then goes to Mr. Gardner (Lydia’s uncle) and talks him into acting as Wickham’s saviour because he, Darcy, doesn’t want the publicity. Mr. Gardner writes to his brother-in-law (Mr. Bennet) and tells him that he has paid Wickham’s debts etc. and all Mr. Bennet needs to do is (a) assure Lydia by settlement of her equal share of the small Bennet estate on the death of Mr & Mrs Bennet and (b) make Lydia an allowance of £100 per annum during his lifetime, reducing to £50 per annum upon his death. If Mr. Bennet is agreeable to this arrangement the couple could soon be married.

As Darcy brokered the entire deal I believe he included the allowance of £100 per annum purely to make Mr. Bennet feel he was making a contribution to the marriage of his daughter.

Following up from Chez Guevara, my reading of P&P was not that it was common practice for the bride’s family to make an allowance to the groom but that Wickham was such a worthless toerag he had to be paid off for marrying the feckless Lydia.

A lump of coal? by 'eck lad you must be rich. We have to make do with a half a roofing tile between 9 of us

You had half a roofing tile? My family of 87 children had to make do with one small pebble, per week. We thought we were lucky when the lord of the manor threw us a few grains of sand.

Yes, managing an estate like Darcy’s would have required some effort, unless you employed a manager, left him to run it by himself, and took the risk that he would swindle you. And with a large income came the expectation that you would employ servants, who would take up a significant part of your expenditure.

Our half of the roofing tile had to last us 6 months. After the 6 months were up we had to eat mud from the gutter outside the abbatoir…sometimes we got lucky and found a few scraps of gristle or bone, we usually saved those for Christmas lunch

I did not get that out of the book at all. First of all, there would be no share of the Bennett estate that went to Lydia when Mr. B dies as it was entailed to Mr. Collins. So I took it as her share being the share of the money that was to be paid to each husband that married a daughter. Is this incorrect?

Thank you for doing this research! It brought it all into perspective.

It’s hard to compare yesterday’s money to today’s money, in that what you can buy today and what you could buy yesterday are two entirely different things. I think it’s more useful to compare person A’s income to person B’s, and see where each person falls in the social hierarchy. So, for example, jjimm’s weaver making 78 pounds a year would be typical of the working poor, who were basically one reverse away from destitution at all times. People “in service” made even less, as I understand it – perhaps a pound a week, if that. But they’d be lodged, and to some degree fed.

To maintain a “genteel” condition of life required an income of at least a couple of hundred pounds, and even then you’d have to make certain sacrifices. At 500 pounds a year – the income from a desirable curacy, for example – you’d be modestly well off, unless you had a dozen children, which also came with the territory.

I realise my wording “was worth” is incorrect. A pound in 1798 had in fact the spending power (inasmuch as we can compare, as Sal Ammoniac correctly points out) of 100/8.7 of a 1974 pound, or ~£11.50. A pound in 1998 had the spending power of 100/592.3, or ~17p of a 1974 pound (which seems rather an insane inflation rate over those 24 years).

Certainly we are told the Bennet estate was entailed to the oleaginous* Mr. Collins.

And yet, here’s an extract from the letter written by Mr. Gardiner from Mr. Bennet following Darcy’s discovery of the happy couple:

I have seen them both. They are not married nor can I find there was any intention of being so; but if you are willing to perform the engagements which I have ventured to make on your side, I hope it will not be long before they are. All that is required of you is, to assure to your daughter, by settlement, her equal share of the five thousand pounds secured among your children after the decease of yourself and my sister; and, moreover, to enter into an engagement of allowing her, during your life, one hundred pounds per annum.

There must have been an element of the estate from which the odious* Mr. Collins was excluded, the source of which is unclear to me. Maybe the £5K originally belonged to Mrs. Bennet.

Do I understand the letter correctly?

  • I don’t much care for Mr. Collins.

The problem lies in multiple definitions of the word “estate”. The land is entailed to the odious Mr. Collins. Mr. Bennett’s small personal property passes by will, and therefore may go in part to Lydia.

I do think it is likely that the $5k was secured to Mrs. Bennett and her children upon her marriage to Mr. Bennett. That could be because it came from her family, or because it was “settled” on her at the time of marriage from the Bennett family property. (It is fairly common in the novels of the period that the bride’s family insists that some amount of money like this be settled on the bride before they will consent to the marriage.)

Not really, given the high inflation rates listed in your cite of the 70s and early 80s, which peaked at 24% in 1975 and 18% in 1981. Alternative cite. That’s a bit over 7% per annum over those 24 years. Welcome to the effect of compound calculations.

In Jane Eyre, published 34 years after Pride and Prejudice, an inherited fortune of 5,000 pounds is expected to be enough to keep her comfortably in the middle class for the rest of her life, without having to work.

Before the inheritance, I think she makes 50 pounds per year as a governess, plus room and board. I can’t find my copy, so I can’t check the amount.

Multiply by about 11%, that gives her a total fortune of 55,000. Not enough to live on permanently now.