Ernst Engel (1821-1896)

German statistician, the head of the Prussian Statistical Bureau (1860-1882), known for the “Engel curve,” or Engel’s law, which states that the proportion of expenditure on food will fall as income rises, i.e. food is a necessary good.

Engel’s law applies to goods as a whole. Demand for food, clothing and shelter – and for most manufactured products – doesn’t keep pace with increases in incomes.

Engel curves are useful for separating the effect of income on demand from the effects of changes in relative prices.

Engel also examined the relationship between the size of the Prussian rye harvest and the average price of rye over a number of years prior to 1860, probably the first empirical study of the relationship between price and supply.


Ernst was born in Dresden in 1821. He studied at the Freiberg University of Mining and Technology, in Saxony, and on completing his curriculum traveled in Germany and France.[1]

Immediately after the revolution of 1848, he was attached to the royal commission in Saxony appointed to determine the relations between trade and labor. In 1850, he was directed by the government to assist in the organization of the German Industrial Exhibition of Leipzig (the first of its kind). His efforts were so successful that, in 1854, he was induced to enter the government service, as chief of the newly instituted statistical department. He retired, however, from the office in 1858. He founded at Dresden the first Mortgage Insurance Society (Hypotheken-Versicherungsgesellschaft), and as a result of the success of his work, was summoned in 1860 to Berlin as director of the statistical department, in succession to Karl Friedrich Wilhelm Dieterici. In his new office, he made himself a name of worldwide reputation. Raised to the rank of Geheimer Regierungsrat, he retired in 1882 and lived henceforward in Serkowitz, today part of Radebeul near Dresden, where he died in 1896.[1] His investigations into the social condition of the working classes were much noted.[2]


Engel was a voluminous writer on the subjects with which his name is connected, but his statistical papers are mostly published in the periodicals which he himself established, namely, Preuss. Statistik (in 1861); Zeitschrift des Königlichen Preußischen Statistischen Bureaus, and Zeitschrift des Statistischen Bureaus des Königreichs Sachsen.[1] Among his works were Die Methoden der Volkszählung (“Census methods,” 1861), Die Volkszählungen, ihre Stellung zur Wissenschaft und ihre Aufgabe in der Geschichte (“Censuses, their place in science and role in history,” 1862), Land und Leute des Preussischen Staates (“The Prussian land and people,” 1863), and Das Zeitalter des Dampfes (“The era of steam,” 1881).[2]


  1. Jump up to:a b c  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). “Engel, Ernst”. Encyclopædia Britannica9 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 405.
  2. Jump up to:a b Rines, George Edwin, ed. (1920). “Engel, Ernst” Encyclopedia Americana.

Further reading

  • Heinrich Strecker, Rolf Wiegert (1997) “Engel, (Christian Lorenz) Ernst,” pp. 280–3 in Leading Personalities in Statistical Sciences from the Seventeenth Century to the Present (ed. N. L. Johnson and S. Kotz) New York: Wiley. Originally published in Encyclopedia of Statistical Science.

External links

  • Photograph of Engel on Portraits of Statisticians
  • “Engel, Ernst” New International Encyclopedia. 1905

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