Human progress is often incremental, but many positive trends have become clearly visible over time. One of these trends is the growing abundance of food. This series of articles for HumanProgress.org will look at the affordability of food relative to wages in England between the 13^{th} century and the present.

Professor Gregory Clark of the University of California, Davis, has conducted extensive research into the economic history of England. As part of his research into the condition of the working class in England, Clark has developed an extensive data set containing nominal prices of goods, and nominal wages of skilled and unskilled workers in England between the 13^{th} and 19^{th} centuries. Note: Clark assumes a 10-hour workday before 1720.

Using the concept of time prices developed by Marian L. Tupy and Gale L. Pooley, we can calculate the number of hours of work that someone must work to earn enough money to buy a particular food item.

In this analysis, Clark’s nominal prices of food items serve as the nominator, and nominal hourly wages, which come from Clark and from the UK’s Office of National Statistics’ Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings, serve as the denominator.

**Figure 1: Food abundance from the perspective of unskilled workers in England, hours of labor**

As we can see in Figure 1, a dozen eggs fell from 1.72 hours of labor in the 1400s to 0.25 hours of labor in 2022. A pound of flour fell from 0.75 hours of labor to 0.02 hours, and a pound of sugar fell from 19.78 hours of labor to 0.03 hours.

**Figure 2: Food abundance from the perspective of unskilled workers in England, per hour of labor**

As we can see in Figure 2, an hour of work bought 7 eggs for an unskilled worker in 1410. That rose to 47.7 eggs in 2022. Instead of 0.79 pounds of flour, an unskilled worker got 50.46 pounds. Instead of 0.03 pounds of sugar, he or she got 29.94 pounds.

That means that unskilled workers earned 6.8 times as many eggs per hour in 2022 compared to the 1400s. For every pound of flour in the 1400s, an unskilled worker earned 64 pounds in 2022. Instead of 1 pound of sugar, he or she got 1001 pounds.

**Figure 3: Food abundance from the perspective of skilled workers in England, hours of labor**

As we can see in Figure 3, for a skilled worker, a dozen eggs fell from 1.02 hours of labor in the 1400s to 0.2 hours of labor in 2022. A pound of flour fell from 0.75 hours of labor to 0.02 hours, and a pound of sugar fell from 19.78 hours of labor to 0.03 hours.

**Figure 4: Food abundance from the perspective of skilled workers in England, per hour of labor**

As we can see in Figure 4, an hour of work bought 11.8 eggs for a skilled worker in the 1400s. That rose to 60.9 eggs in 2022. Instead of 1.34 pounds of flour, a skilled worker got 64.5 pounds. Instead of 0.05 pounds of sugar, he or she got 38.27 pounds.

Put differently, skilled workers earned 5.2 times as many eggs per hour in 2022 compared to the 1400s. For every pound of flour in the 1400s, a skilled worker got 48.2 pounds in 2022. Instead of 1 pound of sugar, he or she got 757 pounds.

Clearly, baking products became much more abundant for both skilled and unskilled workers. Moreover, note that the time price differential between unskilled laborers and skilled tradesmen has shrunk. For example, to afford a dozen eggs in the 1400s, an unskilled worker would have to work 1.72 hours compared to 1.02 hours for a skilled worker, a difference of over 40 minutes. However, in 2022, an unskilled worker would work 15 minutes to afford a dozen, and a skilled worker would work 12 minutes, a difference of only 3 minutes. Put differently, unskilled workers have become better-off relative to their more-skilled compatriots.

Finally, the rate of growth in abundance has clearly accelerated over the last 200 years. Whereas the rate of growth in the abundance of eggs, flour, and sugar grew at a compounded annual rate of about 0.28% between 1410 and 1865 for an unskilled worker, it grew 1.97% between 1865 and 2022. Similarly, for a skilled worker, the compound annual growth rate increased from 0.26% before 1865 to 1.86% afterwards. In fact, between 1410 and 1865, eggs became relatively more expensive for both unskilled and skilled workers. Since the mid-1800s, the rate of growth of wages relative to prices has increased dramatically.