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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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2. Context, data and methods


2. Context, data and methods

As indicated in the previous chapter, the Netherlands, as a nation, formed part of the rearguard during the modernization of demographic behaviour in Europe; demographic change came late to the country and proceeded very gradually. This chapter will examine the Dutch demographic transition during the period 1880 and 1960, the period under study, investigating the pace and level of change, and the diversity between provinces and the four towns which are the focus of this book. Previous historiographical research trying to explain the Dutch pattern of demographic behaviour will be reviewed before the chapter finishes with a discussion of the data and the sources used in this study, and the methods employed to analyse them.

‘Late’ and ‘slow’ are the two key words normally used to describe demographic change in the Netherlands. Fertility in the country was slow to decline, and the proportion of the population married remained comparatively low until the 1960s. According to historical demographers, the Dutch marriage pattern is best described as ‘typically Malthusian’ until at least 1899. Decisive and persistent change can be found from 1900 onwards although the biggest leap forward towards modern marriage patterns was taken between 1930 and 1960. Figure 2.1, which indicates levels of Im, a measure of the proportions of women married in a population, makes clear that in this respect the Netherlands lagged ← 51 | 52 → behind its neighbours, Belgium and Germany for most of the 1880–1960 period.114

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