DP16209 The Downton Abbey Effect: 18th and 19th Century British Aristocratic Marriages and Agricultural Prices

Author(s): Mark Taylor
Publication Date: June 2021
Keyword(s): agricultural depression, Aristocracy, assortative matching, dowry, Marriage
JEL(s): D10, J10, J12, N00, N53
Programme Areas: Economic History
Link to this Page: cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=16209

In the four decades leading up to World War I, a significant proportion of British aristocrats married daughters of newly rich American business magnates. I provide a quantitative economic analysis of this phenomenon in the deeper context of British aristocratic marriages during the 18th and 19th centuries. I show that the decline in agricultural prices, particularly acute during the British agricultural depression of the late 19th century, by reducing the income of aristocratic landed estates at the same time as it reduced the income of landed families, led to richly dowried American brides being substituted for brides from British landed families, the traditional source of brides entering the aristocracy. I also show that this was part of a wider phenomenon of aristocratic substitution of foreign brides for landed brides during the whole of the 19th century, as well as the substitution of daughters of British businessmen for daughters of landed families in aristocratic marriages during both centuries, when agricultural prices declined. The results are consistent with a theory of positive assortative matching in the aristocratic marriage market with lump-sum transfers, where cash-constraints are placed on lump-sum transfers (dowries) from the landowning families of potential brides in periods of agricultural downturn.