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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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6. Conclusions


6. Conclusions

In this book we have followed in detail the Labouring Lives of two cohorts of Dutch women, all the way through their labour market experience as young unmarried women, right up to their subsequent marriage and family formation experience. Our goal was to uncover the role played by these women in shaping the demographic transition in the Netherlands in the period 1880–1960. Among them were women such as the Tilburg textile worker Catharina Maria Weijters, born in that same town in the year 1881, whom we briefly met at the beginning of chapter one. Were these women able to steer their own course in the decision whether and when to marry, and, if they did marry, whether they would attempt to limit the size of their families in any way? The demographic transition in the Netherlands was a late and slow process; birth rates remained high in this country until well into the twentieth century. In the period studied here some women had already begun on this course towards smaller families – they were the early innovators – while others followed suit and some women remained far behind. Who were the early innovators? Who were those women who were able to diverge from high levels of fertility before others did; and who were the ones that remained behind in this development? How did women’s work and educational experience contribute to these diverging patterns?

This study has been searching for women’s agency in demographic innovation and...

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