Labouring Lives

Women, work and the demographic transition in the Netherlands, 1880–1960

by Angélique Janssens (Author)
©2014 Thesis 318 Pages


Labouring Lives unravels the huge changes which have so fundamentally altered the life courses of ordinary women over the past one hundred and fifty years, namely the changes in marriage and fertility patterns. Using dynamic data from Dutch population registers and analytical techniques from the life course approach, the book offers new evidence on women’s changing position in the labour market, their role in pre-nuptial sexuality, and their contribution to marriage and fertility change in the Netherlands between 1880 and 1960. The author reconstructs the socio-economic and demographic worlds of different groups of working and non-working women, and by doing so she is able to locate the various groups driving the changes. Advanced statistical tools enable the author to analyse differences in fertility strategies, stopping versus spacing, employed by various social and cultural groups in the Netherlands. This book leads to conclusions which challenge a number of orthodoxies in the field.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Tables
  • List of Figures
  • List of Appendices
  • Preface
  • 1. Women and the demographic transition
  • 1.1 Introduction
  • 1.2 Standard theories of fertility decline
  • 1.3 Strategies of fertility control: stopping or spacing
  • 1.4 Marriage and the demographic transition
  • 1.5 Women and fertility decline: the labour market
  • 1.6 Fertility and female empowerment through education
  • 1.7 Male versus female interests in declining fertility
  • 1.8 Male and female control in marital sexuality
  • 1.9 Religion, fertility and gender relations
  • 1.10 Design and aims of this study
  • 2. Context, data and methods
  • 2.1 Introduction
  • 2.2 The demographic transition in the Netherlands
  • 2.3 Pillarization and demographic behaviour
  • 2.4 The four towns
  • 2.5 Data, sources and methods
  • 3. Women, work and occupational careers
  • 3.1 Introduction
  • 3.2 Female labour force participation in the Netherlands
  • 3.3 Female work in urban economies: the occupational categories
  • 3.4 Occupational careers: initial occupations from the cohort view
  • 3.5 Working women’s social background from the cohort view
  • 3.6 Occupational pathways and women’s waged work after marriage
  • 3.7 Conclusions
  • 4. Work, marriage and prenuptial sexuality
  • 4.1 Introduction
  • 4.2 The urge to marry and standardization of marital patterns
  • 4.3 Entry into marriage and the family of origin
  • 4.4 Women’s labour force participation and entry into marriage
  • 4.5 ‘Shotgun weddings’ and premarital pregnancies
  • 4.6 Hazard analysis: models of urban marriage in the late nineteenth- and early twentieth century
  • 4.7 The results
  • 4.8 Conclusions
  • 5. Women, work and fertility
  • 5.1 Introduction
  • 5.2 The shape of the urban fertility decline in the Netherlands
  • 5.3 Women’s occupational and fertility careers
  • 5.4 Religion and women’s fertility behaviour
  • 5.5 Breastfeeding and other means of contraception
  • 5.6 Hazard analysis
  • 5.7 Stopping and spacing
  • 5.8 Conclusions
  • 6. Conclusions
  • References
  • Appendices
  • Series Index

List of Tables

Table 2.1:  Population size and marital fertility in four cities, births 1908–1911 and 1959–1961

Table 2.2:  Male and female workforce in the four cities, 1899 and 1930

Table 2.3:  Female labour force participation rates in four cities, 1899 and 1930

Table 2.4:  Number of individual life courses used in this study

Table 3.1:  Percentage of women without a registered occupation by town and birth cohort

Table 3.2:  Percentage of women with two occupational entries who remained in the same occupation, by birth cohort

Table 4.1:  Mean age at first marriage of women, by social class of the bride’s father, by birth cohort and town

Table 4.2:  Mean age at first marriage by female occupational group, by birth cohort and town

Table 4.3:  The percentage of premarital conceptions as a proportion of all first births, by father’s social group and two birth cohorts of women

Table 4.4:  A simple hazard model for entry into marriage, all four towns, for two birth cohorts

Table 4.5:  Extended hazard model for entry into marriage, for all towns and two birth cohorts

Table 5.1:  Total marital fertility rates, selected communities

Table 5.2:  Percentage of women who have not yet had a birth by time since last birth, by town and birth cohort

Table 5.3:  Percentage of women who have not had a birth by time since last birth, by occupation, town and birth cohort

Table 5.4:  The percentage of Catholic women still waiting for another birth two years after the birth of their previous child, by child status and town ← vii | viii →

Table 5.5:  A Cox hazard model for fertility: all parities taken together, all towns, by birth cohort (robust estimation of standard errors)

Table 5.6:  Stopping and spacing models for fertility: parities 2–4, by birth cohort (robust estimation of standard errors) ← viii | ix →

List of Figures

Figure 2.1:  Proportion married (Im) for selected countries, 1880–1960

Figure 2.2:  Mean age at first marriage by sex, the Netherlands, 1850–1960

Figure 2.3:  Marital fertility (Ig) for selected countries, 1880–1960

Figure 2.4:  Marital fertility in selected provinces of the Netherlands, 1881–1975

Figure 2.5:  Map of the Netherlands

Figure 2.6:  Religious composition of the populations of the four towns studied, in 1899 and 1960

Figure 3.1:  Women’s labour force participation, selected European countries, 1880–1960

Figure 3.2:  Married women’s labour force participation, selected European countries, 1900–1990

Figure 3.3:  Labour force participation rates by sex and age group, the Netherlands, 1899–1960

Figure 3.4:  Women’s occupations (first entry) by birth cohort for all towns

Figure 3.5:  Distribution of women’s occupation by father’s social class, for two birth cohorts

Figure 4.1:  Mean age at first marriage and proportions unmarried at age 45, by birth cohort, for each of the four study towns

Figure 4.2:  Kaplan-Meier survival functions for women’s entry into marriage by social group of the bride’s father, by cohort and town

Figure 4.3:  Kaplan-Meier survival functions for women’s entry into marriage by occupational group of woman, by cohort and town

Figure 4.4:  The percentage of premarital conceptions as a proportion of all first births, for four towns and two birth cohorts of women ← ix | x →

Figure 4.5:  The percentage of premarital conceptions as a proportion of all first births, by female occupational group and birth cohort

Figure 5.1:  Age specific marital fertility rates for the two Dutch birth cohorts, for Swedish farmers and for the town of Tilleur, Belgium

Figure 5.2:  Age specific marital fertility rates by town and by birth cohort

Figure 5.3:  Kaplan-Meier survival curves for waiting time until another birth, by town and birth cohort

Figure 5.4:  Kaplan-Meier survival curves for waiting time until another birth, by woman’s occupation and birth cohort

Figure 5.5:  Kaplan-Meier survival curves for waiting time until another birth, by religion and birth cohort

Figure 5.6:  Kaplan-Meier survival curves for waiting time until another birth, by child status for each town and cohort separately

Figure 5.7:  Kaplan-Meier survival curves for waiting time until another birth, by child status and religion for two birth cohorts ← x | xi →

List of Appendices

Appendix 2.1:  Dutch Population registers and civil registers

Appendix 2.2:  Sampling and data handling procedures

Appendix 2.3:  Example of a household survey: the household of Research Person Fina Siemerink (cohort 1811–1885)

Appendix 3.1:  Coding and classification of occupations

Appendix 3.2:  Occupational distribution of female Research Persons, by town and birth cohort

Appendix 3.3:  Distribution of social origin (as indicated by father’s social class) amongst women in each occupational category, by birth cohort

Appendix 4.1:  The number of cases used to calculate the Kaplan Meier survival curves for entry into marriage

Appendix 4.2:  Kaplan Meier curves showing entry into marriage by social class of father, by cohort; all four towns combined

Appendix 4.3:  The number and percentage of Research Persons in each town by religious affiliation; by cohort.

Appendix 5.1:  Number of live births per 1000 of the population, the Netherlands; 1930–1955

Appendix 5.2:  Total marital fertility rates (TMFR; children per married woman) and total marital fertility rates for women aged 20 and over (TMFR+20) by birth cohort and town

Appendix 5.3:  The numbers of women observed by occupational category used in the fertility analyses discussed in chapter 5; all four towns taken together

Appendix 5.4:  Stopping and spacing models for fertility by birth cohort, for Catholics and Protestants separately

Appendix 5.5:  Stopping and spacing models for fertility by birth cohort, for two combinations of towns ← xi | 1 →


This book has long been in the making. In fact, it began when I first started wondering – in the 1980s – about the fertility patterns of my two grandmothers who, I felt, were both defying standard demographic transition theory. Both were strong women, but my maternal grandmother combined a relatively restricted number of offspring – four children in all – with a strict devotion to Catholicism and a strong sense of respect for traditional authorities. Moreover, her fertility career also showed signs of attempts to stop childbearing: the birth of her third child was followed by a seven-year birth interval. At that time it was not an easy subject to be discussed between a grandmother and her granddaughter; when asked about this intriguing detail she declared that she had never been that ‘susceptive’ in ‘these matters’, as if she was talking about catching a cold. My paternal grandmother’s life course provided quite a contrasting story. She was always ready to stand up against worldly or clerical authorities and she saw no problem in casting her vote in favour of the ‘reds’, the socialist party. She combined these non-traditional attitudes with a rather traditional fertility pattern. She gave birth to a long line of children; eight children in total who however would not all survive through childhood. My two grandmothers were born in the opening years of the twentieth century, so they belong to the historic world inhabited by the women studied in this book; this I find quite a nice idea.

Other people have contributed to the origins of this book in more important ways. Through his own work as well as our frequent discussions, Paul Klep awakened in me a keen interest in the study of women’s labour as such and also in the relationships between women’s work and demographic and family history. I want to thank him sincerely for the strong and unwavering support he provided, not only in the initial years of this project but also throughout the long years this book remained ‘under construction’. He must have been exasperated more than once by my apparent ‘lingering’ over this book; at other times he must have been quite worried when my teaching load prevented real progress. I want to thank NWO for ← 1 | 2 → providing the financial support for this project and its data collection.1 Thanks are also due to the Historical Sample of the Netherlands (HSN), at that time still in its infancy, and especially to Kees Mandemakers who were both ready to embark with me upon an unknown road of mass data collection through the Dutch population registers, a road which proved to be not without its difficulties.2

I could not have completed the research for this book without the help of a large number of people. To begin with, Aart Liefbroer who introduced me to the complexities of hazard analysis and the extensive data manipulations involved in this type of analysis of historical data during a very agreeable stay at the NIDI. George Alter and Myron Gutmann were kind enough to invite me over to the ICPSR in Ann Arbor, Michigan. During my stay there George taught me the intricacies of the cure model. I think we were both pleasantly surprised to see that it did work. Also, Jeremy Taylor of the Michigan School of Public Health kindly shared his knowledge of cure models with me. I vastly benefited from these Ann Arbor experiences.

Over the course of a number of years many people were prepared to read some or even all chapters of the book. This was of great importance to me, especially at those times when I had lost sight of the book’s potential. Paul Klep read nearly all chapters and provided valuable and detailed comments. Harry Jansen also read a number of chapters; my discussions with him convinced me to carry on. When the book was more or less ready Eilidh Garrett of the Geography Department, Cambridge University, offered to read the entire book and correct my English, which was ‘quite good’ she said, but did not reach the level of a native speaker. Eilidh is really a great editor; she meticulously went through the entire manuscript, but she also came up with many substantive comments on inconsistencies and issues which needed further clarification. I remain indebted to her. Obviously, any errors or mistakes remaining are entirely mine. Michel Oris also read the entire book and kindly accepted the manuscript for publication in the Peter Lang series Population, Family and Society. ← 2 | 3 →


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2014 (December)
marriage labour market ordinary women fertility
Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 12, 318 pp.

Biographical notes

Angélique Janssens (Author)

Angélique Janssens is associate professor of economic and social history at the Radboud University Nijmegen (the Netherlands). Her research focuses on family history, women’s work and male breadwinning, and child mortality. She also leads a research project investigating the effects of familial factors and the disease environment on mortality and longevity in the Netherlands in the 19th-20th century.


Title: Labouring Lives