Women work: female labour force participation and earning possibilities in the past - Session at WEHC, Kyoto, 2015

Call or papers, deadline 25 August
CFP: Women work: female labour force participation and earning possibilities in the past - Session at the World Economic History Congress, Kyoto, 3-7 August 2015

Session organizers:
Alexandra de Pleijt (Utrecht University) Jacob Weisdorf (University of Southern Denmark)

Please email proposals (maximum 500 words) to Jacob Weisdorf (e-mail: jacobw [at] sam.sdu.dk).

Deadline for submissions: 25 August 2013

We know a lot about male wages in the past, but very little about how much females worked and earned. Recent work by Schmidt and van Nederveen Meerkerk (2012) has demonstrated relatively high rates of female labour market participation in the Netherlands, and Humphries (2013) and Schneider (2013) have questioned the relevance of the male breadwinner model by highlighting women’s contribution to household income in early modern England. Evidence on women’s work and earning possibilities can inform us not only about their agency and wellbeing; the evidence can also contribute to a number of current debates in economic history regarding long-term economic development.
One example is the question of whether ‘the golden age of the peasantry’ inaugurated by the Black Death included women, and whether the demographic disaster and resulting shift to animal husbandry advantaged women whose wages and opportunities increased. The answer has subsequent ramifications for secular growth since, as argued by De Moor and Van Zanden (2010) and Voth and Voightländer (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. This links up with theoretic work by Galor and Weil (1996) who have argued that high female wages deterred marriage by raising the opportunity cost of childbearing. It also connects to the question of whether female celibacy was influenced by women’s ability to maintain themselves and so remain unmarried, as discusses by Froide (2007). Other potential topics include to the study of the historical gender wage gap and its implications for female labour force participation (Burnette 2008), as well as the relevance of the male breadwinner model (Humphries 2013; Schneider 2013).

Papers are invited that contribute to these and related themes in the economic history of all regions and time periods.


Burnette, J. (2008), Gender, Work and Wages in Industrial Revolution Britain, Cambridge University Press.
De Moor, T. and J.L. van Zanden (2010), ‘Girl Power: the European marriage pattern and labour markets in the North Sea region in the late medieval and early modern period’, Economic History Review 63, pp. 1-33.
Humphries, J. (2013), ‘The lure of aggregates and the pitfalls of the patriarchal perspective: a critique of the high wage economy interpretation of the British industrial revolution’, Economic history review, 66(3), 693-714.
Galor, O. and D. Weil (1996), ‘The Gender Gap, Fertility, and Growth’, American Economic Review 86, pp. 374-387.
Schmidt, A. and E. van Nederveen Meerkerk (2012), ‘Reconsidering the 'first male breadwinner economy': long-term trends in female labour force participation in the Netherlands, c. 1600-1900’, Feminist economics, 18(4), 69-96.
Schneider, E. (2013), ‘Real Wages and the Household: Quantifying the Economy of Makeshifts of the Poor in Eighteenth-Century England’, Univeristy of Oxford mimeo.
Voth, H.J. and N. Voightländer (2013), ‘How the West 'Invented' Fertility Restriction’, American Economic Review (forthcoming).

Jacob Weisdorf
Professor, PhD
Department of Business and Economics
University of Southern Denmark
Marie Curie Fellow
Department of Economic and Social History University of Utrecht
Web: http://jacobweisdorf.wordpress.com/

[Cross-posted, with thanks, from EH.News]