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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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4. Work, marriage and prenuptial sexuality


4. Work, marriage and prenuptial sexuality

Over the course of the nineteenth century the importance attached to the marital state increased and the concept of a ‘proper’ age to marry developed. Referring to England John Gillis even speaks of ‘the compulsion to marry’ when discussing the period between 1850 and 1914.220 Increasingly people were attaching greater value to the marital state and relinquishing older patterns of common-law marriage and cohabitation. Women, according to Gillis, were leading this development, as they felt the compulsion to marry most keenly. Late nineteenth-century women not only began to fear being ‘left on the shelf’, but they were also under social pressure to comply with an increasingly restrictive code of sexual conduct. In this chapter I will investigate this so-called female ‘urge’ to marry, but I will do so from the perspective of women’s labour market experiences. In standard historical demography the nineteenth century is usually pictured as a period in which marriage frequencies were rising and marital ages decreasing as a result of the expansion of economic opportunities. More often than not male occupations, and their wage levels, figure prominently in these standard historical accounts. Women are usually only encountered when age at first marriage is being discussed, and then they are viewed primarily as part of the problem, seldom as part of the explanation. If male access to economic resources is thought to have regulated entry into marriage, then surely the question of the extent to which and in what way...

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