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Labouring Lives

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


Angélique Janssens

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.
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1. Women and the demographic transition


1. Women and the demographic transition

When, in 1906, 25-year-old Catharina Maria Weijters married in the Dutch town of Tilburg she must have realized all too well that the remainder of her life would revolve around pregnancy and child bearing. Her mother had borne ten children, eight of whom survived into adulthood. Catharina herself, who had worked as a fluffer in a textile mill up until her marriage, gave birth to eight children in total. Her first three babies arrived in rapid succession with barely a year between them, if that. It was only after her fourth child was born that the intervals between her births began to lengthen. Following the arrival of her fifth and her sixth children, two full years passed before the arrival of the next baby. By that time death had twice visited the nursery. Two of her earlier born daughters had died, one at the age of six months and the other at the age of four. With five living children Catharina and her husband, who held a modest textile factory job, were perhaps trying to avoid a further increase in the size of their family as it took five and a half years for their eighth, and final, child to arrive. When Catharina died at the age of 53 her youngest child was twelve years old and almost ready to start contributing to the family budget. Catharina had thus spent the greater part of her married life bearing and raising children.

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