The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd

Engel, Ernst (1821–1896)

  • H.S. Houthakker
Reference work entry


Born in Dresden, Engel was a German statistician best known for the discovery of the Engel curve and of Engel’s Law. In his early years he was associated with the French sociologist Frédéric Le Play, whose interest in the family led him to conduct household surveys. The expenditure data collected in these surveys convinced Engel that there was a relation between a household’s income and the allocation of its expenditures between food and other items. This was one of the first functional relations ever established quantitatively in economics. Furthermore, he observed that households with higher incomes tended to spend more on food than poorer households, but that the share of food expenditures in the total budget tended to vary inversely with income. From this empirical regularity he went on to infer that in the course of economic development agriculture would decline relative to other sectors of the economy (Engel, 1857). From 1860 to 1882 Engel was director of the Prussian statistical bureau in Berlin, in which capacity he did much to expand and strengthen official statistics. His resignation resulted from his opposition to Bismarck’s protectionist policies. In his own research he dealt particularly with the value of human life (Engel, 1877), which he approached from the cost side. He also investigated the influence of price on demand. His influence on official statistics extended well beyond Germany, and in 1885 he was among the founders of the International Statistical Institute. He died in Radebeul in 1896.


Agricultural economics Engel curve Engel, E. Engel’s Law Household surveys International Statistical Institute 

JEL Classifications

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • H.S. Houthakker
    • 1
  1. 1.