Rowntree, Benjamin Seebohm

views updated May 17 2018

Rowntree, Benjamin Seebohm (1871–1954) A company director and chairman (1923–41) of Rowntree (the chocolate manufacturer) in York, Seebohm Rowntree was also a social reformer, philanthropist, and social researcher, with strong interests in industrial and labour management and in poverty. He is best known to sociologists for his detailed empirical studies of poverty in York.

His reforming spirit owed much to his Quaker origins and the strong influence of his father's ideas. He joined the family business when aged 18 and became the company's first Labour Director, implementing a range of reforms: an eight-hour day in 1896, a pension scheme in 1906, a five-day (44-hour) working week and works councils in 1919, a psychology department in 1922, and profit-sharing the following year. These changes were founded on Rowntree's concerns for the needs of workers, whose improved welfare was, he believed, also likely to promote industrial efficiency—a philosophy of scientific management elaborated in books such as Human Needs of Labour (1918).

Inspired by Charles Booth's studies of poverty in London, Rowntree decided to assess the extent of poverty in York, carrying out his first survey in 1897–8. Poverty: A Study of Town Life appeared in 1901. Rowntree adopted a subsistence definition of poverty, attempting to measure the resources necessary for maintaining physical efficiency. He distinguished primary poverty (where resources were insufficient to maintain efficiency) and secondary poverty (where earnings were sufficient but were spent on other things)—a distinction he subsequently accepted was problematic. The first study showed some 15 per cent of respondents were living in primary poverty. His subsequent studies in 1936 and 1950 employed somewhat modified measures and showed some reduction in poverty.

Rowntree, Benjamin Seebohm

views updated Jun 27 2018

Rowntree, Benjamin Seebohm (1871–1954). Rowntree, of the York, Liberal, quaker, chocolate-manufacturing family, conducted a local survey of poverty, the first of three during his life, published as Poverty: A Study of Town Life (1901). He classified poverty in two categories: families endured primary poverty when the four basic requirements of food, fuel, shelter, and clothing were not met from income, no matter how carefully managed; secondary poverty occurred when families had the income to cover the basic necessities, but did not have money for other essentials such as medicine. Rowntree concluded that 9.91 per cent of York's population were living in primary poverty and 17.93 in secondary poverty. These combined figures were so close to Booth's earlier calculations for London as to demonstrate that the problem of poverty was general.

John Butt

Rowntree, Benjamin Seebohm

views updated Jun 11 2018

Rowntree, Benjamin Seebohm (1871–1954) English businessman and sociologist. In 1889, he joined the family chocolate firm and introduced employees' pensions (1906), a five-day week (1919), and employee profit-sharing (1923).

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Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree

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