THE FINANCES OF FOUNDING A FAMILY

AuthorGriselda Rowntree1
DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9485.1954.tb00699.x
Publication Date01 Oct 1954
SCOTTISH
JOURNAL
OF
POLITICAL
ECONOMY
OCTOBER
1954
THE FINANCES
OF
FOUNDING
A
FAMILY
I
INTRODUC~ON
THIS
paper summarises the results of an enquiry into the economic
circumstances and spending behaviour
of
a small sample
of
young
Aberdeen families having a first
or
second child
in
the early
1950s.
The
enquiry was undertaken by the Department
of
Political Economy in
the University
of
Aberdeen with the aid of
a
generous grant from the
Nufield Foundation.'
Aberdeen was chosen for this investigation, not
for
its proverbial
reputation
in
money matters.
but
because its compact layout and
somewhat isolated position simplified field-work problems. Funhcr-
more, many aspects in the lives
of
young and growing families in the
city were being studied by the University Midwifery Department. in
association with the Social Medicine Research Unit of the Medical
'A
study
of
this kind involves the participation
of
a large number
of
people.
These cannot
be
individually listed here, but
to
professional colleagues in the
University
of
Aberdeen and elsewhere, to many worlrers in the social
service^
both statutory and voluntary. and at national. regional and
local
levels. to the
managements
of
a
number
of
Aberdeen firms. to several local trade union
officials, and
to
countless other citizens
of
Aberdeen.
I
wish
to
express my
most sincere thanks. Certain individuals or organiwtions had
a
special rBle
to
play: the inquiry could not have been undertaken without the encouragement
of
Henry Hamilton. Professor
of
Political Economy, and Dugald Baird.
Professor
of
Midwifery. in the University
of
Aberdeen. and the guidance of
Richard
M.
Titrnuss, Professor
of
Social Administration in the Univenitv of
London.
It
would have been a total failure but for the patient and willing
co-operation
of
the families approached and the friendly persistence
of
the
interviewing
staff,
Miss
J.
R.
Friedenthal (known locally for convenience as
Miss Rae) and Miss
C.
P.
Ken.
The
analysis
of
da~
and the general clerical
work
were in the competent hands
of
Mrs.
N.
Dinnes.
To
ell
these
I
should
like
to
put on record my especial debt
of
gratitude.
201
Nendeln/Liechtenstein
1979
KRAUS
REPRINT
Vol.
1
no.3
202
G.
ROWNTREE
Research Council,' and we found it possible
to
adapt the sampling
machinery
set
up by our medical colleagues for this parallel economic
inquiry.
The main object of
our
study has been
to
investigate the levels
of income and the spending habits of young Aberdeen couples starting
families in the relatively prosperous economic environment
of
recent
years. Many social measures of the war period and the subsequent
introduction
of
family allowances have relieved parents of some of
their pre-war economic burdens.$ and yet the growth
of
statutory aid
for family support has not. except in the case of food expenditure.'
been accompanied by the development
of
national studies
of
family
finances in the changing circumstances of the post-war world. This
lack of contemporary information is regrettable. not merely because
the administrator or child welfare worker is kept in ignorance of the
precise benefits resulting from the outlay of public money
(to
the
extent
of
f66
m. on family allowances alone in 1951). but
also
because
the economic fortunes of families with children seem
to
be especially
sensitive
to
changes
in
financial p01icy.~ Since Britain is concerned
about her population prospects and is committed
to
public provision
for family support, it seems strange that
so
little attention should have
been given
to
the question of preparing for and maintaining dependent
children in the contemporary situation. However, the results of the
current Ministry of Labour cost
of
living study may throw some light
on this subject;
in
the meantime, small-scale
ud
hoc
local inquiries.
such as the present one, can begin to examine some of the financial
problems of present-day parents.
I1
THE
SOCIAL
AND
ECONOMIC
BACKGROUND
In
the early
1950s
there were
in
Aberdeen a number of distinctive
circumstances which influenced family spending behaviour. These
will
only be outlined here, since they are described in detail
in
Mr. Hugh
Mackenzie's volume in the
Third
Stutisticul
Account
series.'
Medical Research Council.
Report for
the
Year
1951-52
(1953).
The prewar situation and subsequent developments are discussed by
1.
Hajnal and Professor
A.
M. Henderson in
a
Memorandum
on
the
Economic
Position
of
the
Family,
Papers
of
the Royal Commission
on
Population,
Vol.
V
(1950).
'
Ministry
of
Food.
Lhnestic
Food
Consumption
and
Erpendittcre.
1950
and
1951
(1952
and 1953).
a
References
to
this subject
will
be
found in
Bulletin
of
the
Oxlord
I.nirw.sify
Insfiftcte
of
Statistim.
cf.
D.
Seers
(Vol.
12,
No.
10.
1950)
and
C.
R.
ROSS
IVol.
14.
No.
3,
19SZ!.
Hugh Mackcnzie.
Third
Stattstical
Account
of
Scotland:
A
berdeen
(1953).
THE
FINANCES OF FOUNDING
A
FAMILY
203
As a relatively isolated
city
of
183.000
people. Aberdeen has
recruited its incoming population chiefly from the surrounding agricul-
tural area of north-east Scotland.
so
that most young couples in the
city have relations living nearby who can assist in times of need.
Military service and the migration
of
labour during and since the war
took many young folk away. and even in the
1950s
some husbands (in
10
per
cent. of the co-operating households) are living away from home
on account of their work, while several others are trawl fishermen and
at sea for trips
of
two
or
three weeks at a time. In some households.
notably among the fisherfolk. the men's habitual absence undoubtedly
gives their wives a dominant r61e in the management
of
domestic
finances.
Although the name of Aberdeen brings to mind the fish trade, the
granite industry and paper-making, there is in fact a great diversity of
industrial and commercial activity, associated in part with the city's
r61e as a regional capital. The breadwinners in
our
inquiry were
scattered through all types of occupations and industries. The only
distinctive vocation. not found in landward areas of Britain. is that
of
the sea-going fishermen. who have a peculiar method of remunera-
tion. In accordance with tradition, the wages of most trawlermen
vary with the value
of
the catch, and their pay at the end of a trip
may either equal that of a highly skilled bonus worker on shore or
alternatively be even
less
than that
of
an unskilled labourer making a
bare minimum wage. Many trawl owners, however, pay a weekly
subsistence allowance (usually of
f4
in
1951-52)
to fishermen's wives
when their husbands are at sea. in order to soften the impact of these
fluctuations on domestic finances.
The prevalence of weekly fluctuations in the earnings of individuals.
experienced not only by the fishermen but also by all British workers
on shift, bonus
or
overtime schemes.' makes it difficult to compare
earning levels
in
different parts of the country. There is considerable
evidence to suggest, however, that, in at least several industries, the
pay-packet in Aberdeen in the early
1950s
is relatively small: a local
study of wages in some large
firms
showed that average Aberdeen
earnings in engineering, paper-making and transport in October
1951
were lower than the national averages published by the Ministry of
Labour for the same period
(Ministry
of
Labour
Gazette,
March
1952);
and figures kindly provided by the Engineering and Allied
Employers' National Federation indicated that the average skilled
fitter
in
the Aberdeen area was among the lowest paid in the country
See
the
opening
chapter
of
Dr.
F.
Zweig's
book,
Labour,
Life
and
Poverty
(1948).

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