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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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5. Women, work and fertility


5. Women, work and fertility

In the previous chapter we saw that women with different occupational backgrounds had quite different marriage behaviour. Female domestic workers appear to have exercised Malthusian restraint both in terms of the timing of their marriage and in their premarital sexual behaviour. Factory girls showed few restraints, they were definitively of the ‘marrying kind’ and frequently entered marriage while already expecting their first child. Women who had had an extended education, such as teachers, were clearly very reluctant to sacrifice their independence; many of them married very late or not at all. Marriage and female human capital did not go well together as women teachers were mostly expected to leave the labour market upon marriage. In this chapter we will consider the extent to which occupational experience prior to marriage also influenced the way women shaped their reproductive careers. Were factory girls ‘modern’ women, the working-class leaders in fertility decline, while female domestic workers remained ‘trapped’ in pre-modern, high fertility patterns? We will begin our discussion by using some comparative techniques to describe the differences in fertility behaviour seen between towns, between cohorts, and between religious and occupational groups. We will then discuss the extent to which women were breastfeeding their babies, and whether they were likely to be practicing birth control measures. Finally, we will bring all these points together to conduct a complex multivariate analysis in order to determine the independent influence of each of the factors shaping women’s reproductive careers. This...

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