University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Core Seminar in Economic and Social History > The gender division of labour in Early Modern England: a new approach with new findings

The gender division of labour in Early Modern England: a new approach with new findings

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This paper presents the main findings of a Leverhulme Trust funded research project on ‘Women’s work in rural England, 1500-1700: a new methodological approach’. The methodology used aims, as far as possible, to mimic modern time-use surveys, by collecting incidental data about the types of work activities people were engaged in from court documents. In doing so it moves away from conventional approaches to the historical division of labour, which have relied either on didactic literature or records of wage labour. It also deploys a definition of work derived from Margaret Reid’s third party criterion, as an activity that could be replaced with purchased goods or services. The project has collected information about 4300 work tasks undertaken by men and women from three types of court document (church court depositions, quarter sessions examinations and coroners’ reports) from the southwestern counties of Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, Wiltshire and Hampshire. Initial analysis shows that women dominated housework and care work, as we might expect, but their involvement in other areas of the economy was also high. Using figures that compensate for the under-recording of women’s tasks, women carried out 37% of agricultural tasks, 44% of tasks in craft production, 44% of food processing tasks, and 51% of petty commerce. Together housework and care work made up only 26% of the work tasks recorded for women. The paper will these findings, making comparisons with other similar studies of Sweden and SW Germany for the early modern period.

This talk is part of the Core Seminar in Economic and Social History series.

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