Private Households


This chapter is preceded by a relatively detailed list of sources that is only partially referenced in the table section. Apart from official documents and retroactively performed estimates, which are the exclusive basis for our historical depiction of income, expense, and consumption structure of private households, the bibliography also lists various publications that report on the costs of living for individuals and families in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when the official household and consumer statistics were still in their infancies. We refer to those documents with the intent of assisting readers interested in case studies to locate such existing data.
The major subject of this chapter is the household budgets of employed individuals between 1912 and 1989, with an emphasis on the presentation of consumption habits of workers and worker families during the period 1912–1974. More than half of the tables deal with short-, medium-, and long-term changes that can be determined by the segment (per thousand) of the major sources of income as well as a significant number of expense items. After that we present the official estimates of alcohol consumption, data on production and sale of distilled spirits, and detailed figures on the volume of food consumption by workers and worker families. A two-page spread, showing the monthly food ration that could be obtained in the years 1939–1948 through so-called standard, child, and supplemental cards, marks the end of the chapter.

Household Budgets of Blue Collar and White Collar Worker Families in the Period 1890–1921

As part of the National Fund project “Real salaries of Swiss industrial workers from 1890 to 1921” (“Reallöhne schweizerischer Industriearbeiter von 1890 bis 1921”), conducted at the Research Institute for Swiss Social and Economic History of the University of Zurich (“Forschungsstelle für schweizerische Sozial- und Wirtschaftsgeschichte der Universität Zürich”), Ruedi Homberger attempted to reconstruct the expense structure of worker households in the years 1890, 1900, 1910, and 1920. The budgets analyzed by Homberger consisted entirely of published statistics. Almost all of the surveyed families belonged to the industrial worker class and, without exception, resided in Zurich, Basle, Berne, Biel/Bienne, or Winterthur, i. e. in one of the urban centers of the German-speaking Midland. When selecting the budgets, Homberger made sure that the records indeed stemmed from the proper period, that they covered a minimum of 12 months, that they permitted comparisons between income and expenses, and that they provided information on the size and place of residence of the family as well as the occupation of the head of household. In order to lessen the obvious overrepresentation of more affluent worker families in the household data he examined, Homberger refrained from including into the sample budgets of families with an annual income of over sfr. 2000. Expense items mentioned less than three times in a source were not considered. Direct taxes and insurance expenses were excluded across the board.
The procedure chosen by Homberger has been severely attacked by one of the foremost experts on the social and economic conditions of the Swiss industrial worker class at the turn of the century: In the first volume of his work “Working class and economy in Switzerland 1880–1914” (“Arbeiterschaft und Wirtschaft in der Schweiz 1880–1914”), Erich Gruner criticized, among other things, that Homberger’s estimates, despite excluding higher incomes, did not pay enough attention to the situation of poorer families, that Homberger should not have excluded tax and insurance expenses, and that a more thorough examination of available source data was possible. A harsh look at Homberger’s work makes it hard to reject a certain factual justification of Gruner’s critique. However, considering the fact that every estimate performed after a significant time lapse suffers from flaws, and that Homberger had to complete a very complex task under great time pressure, his errors and omissions can be seen in a softer light. We do not deny that additional sources should have been consulted, that tax and insurance expenses should not have been neglected when determining consumption characteristics, and that the estimates for the years 1890 and 1900 required better back-up. As far as the period 1905–1921 is concerned, however, we consider the results of Homberger’s research reliable with the sole exception of the remarkably high expenditures for fats and oils.

Household Budgets of Blue Collar and White Collar Worker Families in the Period 1912–1990

Gruner primarily bases his abstract of the cost of living of industrial workers at the beginning of this century on a voluminous brochure published in 1922 by the Swiss Workers Secretariat (“Schweizerisches Arbeitersekretariat” / “Secrétariat des ouvriers suisses”), which presents and discusses the results of a survey of the year 1912. The tables published by the Swiss Workers Secretariat are based on the data from 542 households, a sample which is only conditionally representative. Especially disturbing is the gross underrepresentation of Western and Southern Switzerland and the relatively small number of budgets by unskilled laborers included in the estimate. However, the wealth of the data and its very professional discussion make up for those flaws, and the publication represents by far the most important contemporary contribution to a set of statistics of the expense structure and the food consumption of Swiss private households before World War I.
Four additional surveys date from the years 1919–1922. They were conducted with significant participation of canton and community statistical offices, and their results – which included the income side as well – were published in the “Swiss Statistical Bulletins” and in the “Socialstatistical Bulletin”, a precursor to the publication “The Economy” (“Die Volkswirtschaft” / “La Vie économique”). No official data was passed on in the following decade and a half. Only at the height of the Great Depression did the Social Statistical Commission of the Federal Department of National Economy cause the statistics discontinued in 1923 to be resumed. This time, a total of 1454 budgets were analyzed which gave the inquiry performed between October 1, 1936, and September 26, 1937, the status of a major survey. In addition to canton and community statistical offices, the Federal Office for Industry, Trade, and Labor (BIGA/OFIAMT) also participated in the acquisition and processing of the data. The selection and estimating methods used in this project are discussed in detail in the introduction to special issue No. 42 of the publication “The Economy”, which includes the results of the survey and also comparisons to smaller surveys from the years 1919–1922 and 1937/38. There were no official surveys in the years 1939–1942. Statistics resumed in 1943, and continued in changed form until 1989. The summaries compiled by the BIGA/OFIAMT in conjunction with canton and community statistical offices and published annually in the journal “The Economy” contain data on income and expense structure, as well as food consumption, of private households. As in the surveys of 1936/37 and 1937/38, and partially in those of 1912 and 1919–1922, a subdivision was performed not only by blue collar and white collar workers, but also by income classes and sizes of families. In the years 1953 and 1963, the BIGA/OFIAMT slightly changed the survey methodology, but a fundamental revision of the statistics did not occur until the first half of the 1970s. The two major modifications consisted of dropping the strict distinction that had been made, up to 1974, between blue collar and white collar households, and of considering household budgets of individuals in addition to those of families. This means that caution is required when comparing the results of the surveys from 1975 to 1989 with those of prior years, a fact to be considered when interpreting the overall summary of income and expense structures of private households that we provide for a period of 80 years.
Needless to say, the revision of the household statistics in the years 1973–1975 had an impact on the consumption statistics as well. The reason why our overview of foods consumed by non- self-employed households breaks off in the early 1970s is that the data for the second half of the 1970s, as well as for the 1980s, can in no way be compared to the figures acquired in the period 1912–1973.
In 1990, the Federal Office of Statistics once again completely revised the household statistic. A comprehensive survey of the magnitude of the 1936/37 inquiry substituted for the projection methodology that had been applied to a base of several hundred households for more than half a century. In addition to data from almost 2,000 households over a 12-month period, there are single-month samples for approximately 850 households. Since the initial test of this survey method was also accompanied by a redefinition of individual expense categories, the results can no longer be compared with earlier surveys. We therefore do not print the figures for the year 1990.

Scaling of Consumption Items

The consumption units shown in our tables are statistical artifacts computed using a scale developed by Walter Schiff before the World Wars. Schiff’s scale assigns children age 0–3 a value of 0.1. The assigned value for 7–9 year olds is 0.2, for 10–12 year olds 0.3, and for 13–14 year olds 0.5. For individuals over 14, there is a differentiation by gender: Male youths of the age of 15–16 years receive a value of 0.7, those aged 17–18 a value of 0.9, and men between 19 and 99 years the value 1.0. The respective values for the three age classes for girls and women are 0.6, 0.7, and 0.8. Until 1986, the sources we consulted also showed consumption units that were arrived at through a scaling method – dealing with so called “quets” – developed by Ernst Engel. However, we considered it acceptable to include only those values in this publication that had been computed using Schiff’s scale.

SOURCE: «Private Households» in Ritzmann/Siegenthaler, Historical Statistics of Switzerland, Zürich: Chronos, 1996, 921-925

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The current chapter contains 24 table(s) between 1880 and 1990