Women in Early Modern England, 1550-1720

By Sara Mendelson; Patricia Crawford | Go to book overview

6
OCCUPATIONAL IDENTITIES AND SOCIAL ROLES

In the previous chapter we discussed the basic strategies by which poorer women survived over their lifetimes. At the middling and upper levels of society, where taxes and rates were paid, life was obviously less desperate, and women's work involved less drudgery. This chapter discusses the main features of women's work at these higher levels.

The work of women of the middling and upper ranks shared certain common features with that of poorer women. Women's work always included responsibility for a household and, if they were mothers, the care or supervision of children. Compared with men of the same social rank, they had limited choices of occupations and professions, and less access to training. There were few occupations exclusive to women, compared with a large number monopolized by men. The economic rewards of women's labour were usually smaller than those of men. Whatever work women performed was likely to be less highly valued. All women, whether single or married, were affected by the expectation that they would bear children; reproduction was their main 'labour', and if they did have children, their responsibilities affected their capacity to engage in work on the same terms as men. Women's roles as wives and mothers influenced their employment choices. Regardless of whether they lived in countryside or town, child-care responsibilities made them comparatively less mobile than men, which in turn affected their opportunities for paid employment. Women's marital status, unlike that of men, affected their economic rewards: the single woman was paid for work which the married woman was expected to perform as a duty, and the married woman did not own the economic rewards of her work.

Similarly, the concept of 'the family economy' is as problematic for middling and élite women as for the mass of the female labouring population. Undoubtedly, a woman's family of origin affected her life chances. But women were individuals. Not all married. Of those who married, many had independent work identities. Not all wives enjoyed the economic

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Women in Early Modern England, 1550-1720
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface v
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Contents xi
  • List of Illustrations xiii
  • Abbreviations xvii
  • Note Concerning Dates and Spellings xviii
  • Glossary of Terms xviii
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Contexts 15
  • 2 - Childhood and Adolescence 75
  • 3 - Adult Life 124
  • Conclusions 200
  • 4 - Female Culture 202
  • Conclusions 255
  • 5 - The Makeshift Economy of Poor Women 256
  • Conclusions 298
  • 6 - Occupational Identities and Social Roles 301
  • 7 - Politics 345
  • Conclusions 428
  • Epilogue 431
  • Select Bibliography 437
  • Index 467
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