British Working-class Household Composition, Labour Supply and Commercial Leisure Participation during the 1930s
The early twentieth century constituted the heyday of the ‘breadwinner-homemaker’ household, characterised by a high degree of intra-household functional specialization between paid and domestic work according to age, gender, and marital status. This paper examines the links between formal workforce participation and access to resources for individualized discretionary spending in British working-class households during the late 1930s, via an analysis of household leisure expenditures. Leisure spending is particularly salient to intra-household resource allocation, as it constitutes one of the most highly prioritized areas of individualized expenditure, especially for young, single people. Using a database compiled from surviving returns to the Ministry of Labour’s national 1937/38 working-class expenditure survey, we examine leisure participation rates for over 600 households, using a detailed set of commercial leisure activities together with other relevant variables. We find that the employment status of family members other than the male breadwinner was a key factor influencing their access to commercial leisure. Our analysis thus supports the view that the breadwinner-homemaker household was characterised by strong power imbalances, that concentrated resources - especially for individualized expenditures - in the hands of those family members who engaged in paid labour.