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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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This book has long been in the making. In fact, it began when I first started wondering – in the 1980s – about the fertility patterns of my two grandmothers who, I felt, were both defying standard demographic transition theory. Both were strong women, but my maternal grandmother combined a relatively restricted number of offspring – four children in all – with a strict devotion to Catholicism and a strong sense of respect for traditional authorities. Moreover, her fertility career also showed signs of attempts to stop childbearing: the birth of her third child was followed by a seven-year birth interval. At that time it was not an easy subject to be discussed between a grandmother and her granddaughter; when asked about this intriguing detail she declared that she had never been that ‘susceptive’ in ‘these matters’, as if she was talking about catching a cold. My paternal grandmother’s life course provided quite a contrasting story. She was always ready to stand up against worldly or clerical authorities and she saw no problem in casting her vote in favour of the ‘reds’, the socialist party. She combined these non-traditional attitudes with a rather traditional fertility pattern. She gave birth to a long line of children; eight children in total who however would not all survive through childhood. My two grandmothers were born in the opening years of the twentieth century, so they belong to the historic world inhabited by the women studied in this book; this I find quite a nice idea...

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