Jacob Weisdorf on How much did English Women earn in the past? Female wages from before the Black Death through the Industrial Revolution

Speaker:  Jacob Weisdorf - University of Southern Denmark
  Monday, November 11, 2013 at 12:30 PM Aula Menegazzi, Palazzo di Economia

This paper presents a wage series for unskilled English (and some Welsh) women

workers from 1260 to 1860. The series is bookended by some familiar secondary
sources compiled by authors such as Thorold Rogers (for the medieval period) and
Joyce Burnette (for the nineteenth century). Data extracted from less well
known sources, including a number of estate and household accounts, supplements the
established material and bridges several gaps in the series. The series can be
compared with the authoritative series for men compiled by Clark (2007) and Allen
(2001). It can also be subdivided into a series based on daily or weekly wages, which
were by and large earned by married women and annual wages, which were by and
large the reserve of single farm and household servants. The series casts light on
long run trends in women’s agency and wellbeing but also informs several recent
debates in economic history. First, the series bears on the question of whether “the
golden age of the English peasantry” allegedly inaugurated by the Black Death 
included women, and more particularly whether demographic disaster and the
resulting shift to animal husbandry advantaged women whose wages and
opportunities increased. This has subsequent ramifications for secular growth since,
as argued by De Moor and van Zanden (2010) and Voitlander and Voth (2012),
women who spent time as servants, delayed marriage and reduced fertility. The
resulting Northern European Marriage Pattern (NEMP) raised incomes and
promoted further growth. Second, the series enables the relationship between
the age at marriage and women’s relative wages to be explored in a long run context.
Did a relatively high female wage deter marriage by raising the opportunity costs of
childbearing as the seminal paper by Galor and Weil (1996) suggest
s? Third, the series informs recent interest in whether female celibacy was influenced by
women’s ability to maintain themselves and so remain unmarried, see Froide

Programme Director
Roberto Ricciuti

Publication date
August 26, 2013