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SOC214H1 Lecture Notes - An Unmarried Woman, Late Marriage, Nuclear Family

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Bonnie Fox

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Families in pre-industrial Europe
The pre-industrial Europe and North America, people working on the land- both servants and craftsmen‟s
(creating products at home and sell it in the market) works are done in or around the households by the
members of the household ”household economy”, which is the basis of nuclear family
I. Family in Feudal England (5th -14th century)
There is no central government or army in this period. Family structure then become powerful and become the
key labour force
A. The nobility (& royalty) and the importance of the lineage
1. Marriage: an arrangement between lineages, to acquire connections & land (women bring a „dowry‟,
men a „bride price‟)
In royal family, you marry your son or daughter to another royal family in a foreign country so
that when these two countries are in war, you will have alliance
Women were under husband‟s control after being married
2. Wives: for bearing a son (an heir)
Power for a woman is to have a son and wait till he becomes the King
Wife has the pressure to have lots of children, including girls
Noble men are often gone. The husbands will trust their wives to run the state
3. “Patriarch client relationship”: more powerful person claim protection to lower status people and the
lower status people, in return, promise loyalty
There are tremendous social inequality-90% of the population are servants
The peasants are bounded to the land/indenture (they owe labour work to the noble family)
Serfs/peasants cultivate their own-they feed themselves
B. Peasants/serfs: nuclear families, under the power of the manorial lord & immersed in the village
1. Household: work unit- nuclear family plus labourer(s)
2. Marriage based on practical matters-the nobles encourage their peasants to get marry. So that the
men can work better by having the wife to provide food for their household. Marriage is the basis of
the working partnership
a. Need for land and some dowry-men‟s source of power, only they can own land
b. Husband (owner of property) & his wife‟s guardian (legally)- if the women have to go the court,
they need somebody to represent them
c. RC Church: man as authority over his wife less gender inequality with decreasing status-lower
status women. The church proposed that marriage is for the sake to have children and to prevent
d. But wife working together with husband to provide subsistence
3. Children: mothers occupied primarily with necessary work
Parents do care about children. However, women do not prioritize the care of the child
Usually kids taking care of kids
4. High death rates; frequent changes in household composition (stepmothers)- 50% chance of children
surviving till the age of 21
5. Lack of privacy
Peasants live in village community-lands were scattered around the countryside. Thus, the whole
village decides where to plant and what to plant-collective decision.
If you choose somebody that the village disagree, the whole village will humiliate you
- These families are where the economy of the villages occurs. Household families provide labour. Work
relations are family relations (intertwine). The marriage is the basis of working partnership
II. The Family Economy‟: the Household as the Unit of Production, Members as the Labour Force. Pre-
industrial England& France Peasants & Artisans
A. Independent producers, working for themselves: production occurred in the household, & family
relations were also work relations.
Economic units were small, often overlapping with households
Servants: any household dependent, whether performing domestic or manufacturing tasks
Young unmarried dependent person who joined a family economy as an additional number
Wage labourers: lived in households of their own, bound together, like the families of agricultural
labourers, by the need to earn money which would pay for their subsistence
“Family wage economy-individuals sold their labour power in order to support the family unit
Production was low in 18th century England and France. Demand for labour extended to women. The
work of individuals was defined by their family positions
People work in the family interest- People who controlled their means of production adjusted
households‟ composition to production needs. For the propertyless, people adjusted household
composition to consumption needs
B. Husband and wife did complementary and necessary work: both were essential
C. Marriage
1) Prerequisite: land/a trade for the man, a dowry for the woman (and children‟s dependence on their
father to provide)
2) Age: late
3) Practical considerations in choice of mate
4) Gender relations in marriage: patriarchy or partnership? There were some „rough equality‟- in 15th
century England, some men out their wives‟ names onto the titles to land and some peasant put on
the wills that their wives will have the land after they died
a) Covertures women were the wards of their husbands
b) Husbands owned the property. Women, single (including widow) and over 21, are allowed to
own land but as long as they were married, the land belong to their husband
c) Men were the primary producers
d) Men had the legal right to use corporal punishment
e) Men had an incentive to exert their authority
f) Women did essential work
Marriage was an economic arrangement and the establishment of a family economy. It required the
couples to be able to support themselves and their children
Properties were often passed on from generation to generation. In northern France, a young man had
to postpone marriage until a house was vacant (one or both parents died) and a young woman had to
wait for the death of her parents to receive settlement. This leads to late marriage and fewer children,
which also functioned as a birth control (limited the size of the completed family). For the
propertyless, they can marry as long as both of them were able to earn wages. And among the
poorest, legalization of sexual relationships was unnecessary since they were unexpected to acquire
D. Household composition: frequently changing to meet changing needs for labourers & because of high
mortality rates
Migration increased in times of economic crisis. It is because when the number of family members
exceeded the resources available to feed them, the older children or non-kin were forced to work
elsewhere and they migrated
Sometimes, the father of the family left home in search for work. He relieved the household of
the need to feed him. However, this does not mean he can find job to support the family
If the adult members of the family could continue working, then young children were sent away
to retain the balance between consumption and work. When families were desperate, the parents
might abandon the last-born child. Older children who were too young to work were sent off too
Children were regularly enrolled at an orphanage because their families could not feed them-
These children might be replaced by their siblings-the family use the orphanage as a resource
Complete families were not large, usually only 2/3 lived to adulthood because
i. Standards of nutrition and health were very low
ii. Mortality rates were very high
iii. Many marriages were shortened by the death of one of the spouses
Death rates nearly matched birth rates-result of widespread crop failures and consequent starvation
or of diseases. ¼ of infants born alive died during their first year of life another ¼ died before they
reached 20. Life expectancy at birth was thirty years. Women dying in larger numbers than men
between 24-35- child-bearing years. Orphanhood, widowhood and loss of children were common
E. Mother/child relations: the priority of women‟s productive work meant child care was secondary. („wet
nurses‟(a peasant who you paid to take care of your baby) used by women in towns), however, the death
rate was high because these nurses took care of lots of children & the parents often have another child in
a short period of time, they do not care about the previous one
F. Teens often sent into „service‟
G. Elderly: contracting their own care-they do not assume their son will take care of them as people are not
emotionally close to their parents
Single women and married women in the modern England and France
Family membership was important for economic and social survival
Single women
- They belonged to the households either as daughters or servants. They were regarded as dependent of
the household. They can only escape this state of dependency through marriage. An unmarried woman
outside a convent was vulnerable to material hardship and sexual exploitation. Thus, single women
usually live together.
- The labour needs of the family defined the type of work the woman might do. If there is no need for a
daughter‟s labour, the daughter would be sent somewhere else. These young women would also be sent
if the family is able to feed its children, when one of the parents died and left the widow unable to
support the children or when the remarried parent refused taking care of the children of the first
marriage. Kin networks were a common means used by those seeking jobs. These mean orphans were on
their own. They have to do whatever jobs they can find.
- A girl‟s marriage was limited by her family‟s economic situation. They only expect to remain at their
parent‟s level. People with properties often marry somebody in the same social or work occupation.
Among the propertyless, geographic endogamy was the norm. Among wealthy families, the children‟s
marriages extended networks of power and influence. The parents protected the lineage. Among popular
classes, individual choices of a spouse were permitted. Parental consent functioned as a verification of
the couple‟s resources.
Married women
- Rural women ran the household. The wives of propertyless labourers also contribute to the family
economy by working in the fields. They might also work as wet nurses. They often alternate different
kinds of work to increase their earnings. For the urban women, they usually assist their husbands.
Women were referred to as the wives of the craftsmen even when they were widows and practicing in