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Statistics, Rowntrees’ use of

Joseph Rowntree (Senior) was ‘much at home in figures, partial to statistical research’ and had a ‘microscopic power of perceiving and mastering details’. For example in 1843, wishing to modernise the curriculum at Ackworth School, he first made a survey of the career choices of a sample of the pupils.

For his son John Stephenson, who in 1859 marshalled the evidence demonstrating that Quakers must relax their marriage regulations, statistics were all alive with significance. But he always saw the human facts which lay behind them.  Joseph Rowntree, in the cause of temperance reform, collected much data on pauperism and alcoholism.

Seebohm’s York poverty surveys (1899, 1936, and 1950) continue the family tradition – the development of systematic social investigation as an essential prelude to proposed reform or social action. In painstaking research Joseph uncovered evidence and statistics about pauperism, workhouses, the miserable diets of the poor, and so on, published in the best-selling The Temperance Problem and Social Reform in its 9thedition by 1900. It was Joseph who encouraged his son Seebohm to undertake his survey of poverty in York in 1899, which found that 28% of York’s population lived in severe poverty.

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