Abstract

This contribution provides methods for estimating developments in women’s labor force participation (LFP) in the Netherlands, for both preindustrial and industrializing eras. It explains long-term developments in Dutch LFP and concludes that the existing image of Dutch women’s historically low participation in the labor market should be reconsidered. Contrary to what many economic historians have supposed, Dutch women’s LFP was not lower, and was perhaps even higher, than elsewhere in the pre-1800 period. As in other Western European countries, the decline of (married) Dutch women’s LFP only started in the nineteenth century, though it then probably declined faster than elsewhere. Thus, this study concludes that the Netherlands did not constitute the “first male-breadwinner economy,” as historians and economists have suggested. Scrutinizing the nineteenth-century data in more detail suggests that a complex of demographic, socioeconomic, and cultural changes resulted in this sharp decline of Dutch women’s crude activity rates.

Abstract

Elise van Nederveen Meerkerk investigates the extent to which colonial ties between the Netherlands and the Netherlands East-Indies influenced women’s labour patterns in the colony as well as the metropolis. On the one hand, comparisons are made between quantitative and qualitative developments in women’s labour force participation in the Netherlands and the Netherlands Indies in the colonial period. On the other hand, various connections are made between developments in the metropolis and the colony. Not only did Dutch economic and colonial policies, such as the Cultivation System and the exports of Dutch textiles by the Dutch Trading Company (nhm), lead to changes in women’s work in both regions. Moreover, social policy, for instance the Social Question and Ethical Policy, also influenced legislation on and practices of women’s work in colony and metropolis. The underlying rhetorics were generally patronising, containing elements of class, ethnicity and gender to justify intervention (and the differences therein) in both parts of the empire.

Abstract

Many historians have pointed out for various countries that nineteenth-century national censuses do not accurately reflect women’s economic activity. This was no different for the Dutch national censuses. In this article, we argue that under-recording was especially severe in agriculture, and that this problem increased towards the end of the century. The rise in under-recording was partly due to an increased irregularity of women’s work on farms, but it also reflected changing living standards and ideologies, in which work was increasingly defined as undesirable for women. In relative terms, agriculture did become less important to men and women alike because of mechanization and industrialization. Nevertheless, agriculture continued to employ many women, especially married women and daughters working on their husbands’ and fathers’ farms. By offering additional source material and methods for estimating women’s labour force participation in agriculture on a regional level, such as relating their occupational status to their husbands’, and estimating the number of days worked, we aim to offer an enhanced methodology for gauging the work of women in agriculture, which may be applied to future research.