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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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3. Women, work and occupational careers


3. Women, work and occupational careers

Between second half of the nineteenth century and the middle of the twentieth century women’s economic roles in most European countries changed dramatically. Labour market opportunities for young and single women increased and diversified in the later decades of the nineteenth century, and in some countries such opportunities also opened up for married women. These new developments in women’s work experiences all pertained to urban labour markets rather than to those in the countryside. In historiographic discourse the nineteenth and early twentieth century are, however, also pictured as an age in which women were driven out of the public sphere – away from the labour market – and restricted to the private sanctuary of their family and household.154 Women’s employment rates in the period, in which male breadwinning became the norm even amongst working-class families, are often explained as a function of male wage levels. Higher male wages, it is argued, enabled families to withdraw their wives and daughters from the paid labour market in order to live up to the male breadwinner ideal, and there is evidence to suggest that such behaviour was the experience of some working-class families around the turn of the twentieth century.155 The relationship between women’s work rates and male wage levels will be examined for the two cohort samples of urban women studied in this book. The occupational careers of the women in the two cohorts will be reconstructed in order to determine the relationship these late nineteenth...

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