In many times and places, household and economy were overlapping institutions. Indeed, the word economics comes from the Greek oeconomica, meaning the science or art of managing a household. The traditional household brimmed with economic activities. Based on kin but extended to include living-in servants, apprentices and lodgers, it was the scene of production as well as consumption and reproduction. Allocation of labour and resources was not egalitarian, but all members participated. In contrast its modern counterpart has suffered a dramatic ‘loss of function’. Needs that were formerly met by family members working within the home are now met by outside agencies, and individuals interact with the wider economy and society not through their households but independently. The household has wasted economically, shrunk in apparent size and become dependent on the earnings of its male head, or very recently its two adult earners (Parsons 1959).
The contrast between pre-industrial and modern families implicates economic change in the household’s loss of function. Urban industrial life not only involved significant changes in how goods and services were produced but also reallocated the transformed activities between the household and the market economy. This chapter is about these processes as they occurred for the first time in the context of another pioneer experience, industrialisation in Britain in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries: ‘ours was the society which first ventured into the industrial era, and English men and women were the first who had to try to find a home for themselves in a world where the working family, the producing household, seemed to have no place’ (Laslett 1965: 18).