University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Economic and Social History Seminars > Ellen McArthur Lecture: Eve Also Delved: Gendering Economic History (1)

Ellen McArthur Lecture: Eve Also Delved: Gendering Economic History (1)

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1. Women, work and wages: from the Black Death to the industrial revolution

Lecture 1 builds on earlier work (with Jacob Weisdorf (2015)) in using historical evidence on women’s wages as a lens through which to view their economic activities and position in society. We have linked material provided by other historians to the fragmentary evidence from diverse primary sources on women’s wages to provide an account of women’s wages from the Black Death to the Industrial Revolution. These estimates can be compared with various widely accepted series of men’s wages over the same time period in a historic account of the evolution of the gender gap in pay. Not only does this cast new light on debates about the power of capitalist development to fracture patriarchal continuities, it also challenges two recent mainstream themes in economic history. The first challenge is to the idea of a girl-powered boost to economic growth following the Black Death. Both De Moor and van Zanden (2010) and Voitländer and Voth (2013) have argued that the restructuring of agrarian production in response to demographic contraction by enhancing the relative remuneration of women workers promoted delayed marriage and reduced Malthusian pressures enabling increased investment, especially investment in human capital. The empirical record appears out of synch with this interpretation and forces new ways of thinking about the 15th century reaction. The second challenge is to the now dominant interpretation of the British industrial revolution as originating in a ‘high wage economy’. In this interpretation the high cost of labour relative to capital and fuel incentivised innovation and the adoption of the new techniques elevating Britain onto a higher growth trajectory inaccessible to competitors in Europe and Asia. Recently women and children have been explicitly included in this high wage economy albeit with minimal empirical evidence available in support. The lecture will explore whether the early modern and modern evidence on women’s wages is consistent with the HWE .

This talk is part of the Economic and Social History Seminars series.

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