Abstract

The notion that becoming poor was primarily the result of an economic crisis in the labor market or a rise in the price of food does inadequate justice to the evidence in the records of the Hospital of Charity in eighteenth-century Turin. Although any crisis has the potential to reduce the standard of living in a general population, only certain families become impoverished; others manage to withstand difficult times more or less unscathed. Moreover, individuals and families become poor not only during widespread economic hardships but also under normal conditions. A general crisis may be an aggravating factor, increasing the likelihood of poverty, but it is neither a necessary nor a sufficient cause. The case of Turin suggests a combination of multiple contingencies as the key to how people became poor. Among them, an imbalance in the ratio between workers and mouths to feed in a family was the most important.

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