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Historians disagree about whether the British Industrial Revolution was beneficial for women. Aggregate information on the occupations of women is available only from the census, and while census data has the advantage of being comprehensive, it is not a very good measure of work done by women during the Industrial Revolution. For one thing, the census does not provide any information on individual occupations until , which is after the period we wish to study. Table One illustrates the problem further; it shows the occupations of men and women recorded in the census, for 20 occupational .
These s suggest that female labor force participation was low, and that 40 percent of occupied women worked in domestic service. However, economic historians have demonstrated that these s are misleading. First, many women who were actually employed were not listed as employed in the census. Women who appear in farm wage books have no recorded occupation in the census. Source: B. Most of this work was unpaid. Some families were well-off enough that they could employ other women to do this work, as live-in servants, as charring women, or as service providers. Live-in servants were fairly common; even middle-class families had maids to help with the domestic chores.
Charring women did housework on a daily basis. In London women were paid 2s. Since raw materials were expensive, textile workers rarely had enough capital to be self-employed, but would take raw materials from a merchant, spin or weave the materials in their homes, and then return the finished product and receive a piece-rate wage. This system disappeared during the Industrial Revolution as new machinery requiring water or steam power appeared, and work moved from the home to the factory. Before the Industrial Revolution, hand spinning had been a widespread female employment.
It could take as many as ten spinners to provide one hand-loom weaver with yarn, and men did not spin, so most of the workers in the textile industry were women. The new textile machines of the Industrial Revolution changed that. Wages for hand-spinning fell, and many rural women who had ly spun found themselves unemployed.
In a few locations, new cottage industries such as straw-plaiting and lace-making grew and took the place of spinning, but in other locations women remained unemployed. Another important cottage industry was the pillow-lace industry, so called because women wove the lace on pins stuck in a pillow. In the late-eighteenth century women in Bedford could earn 6s.
However, this industry too disappeared due to mechanization. The straw-plaiting industry employed women braiding straw into bands used for making hats and bonnets. The industry prospered around the turn of the century due to the invention of a simple tool for splitting the straw and war, which cut off competition from Italy. At this time women could earn 4s. This industry also declined, though, following the increase in free trade with the Continent in the s.
A defining feature of the Industrial Revolution was the rise of factories, particularly textile factories. Work moved out of the home and into a factory, which used a central power source to run its machines. Water power was used in most of the early factories, but improvements in the steam engine made steam power possible as well. The most dramatic productivity growth occurred in the cotton industry.
Britain began to manufacture cotton cloth, and declining prices for the cloth encouraged both domestic consumption and export. While cotton was the most important textile of the Industrial Revolution, there were advances in machinery for silk, flax, and wool production as well. The advent of new machinery changed the gender division of labor in textile production. Before the Industrial Revolution, women spun yarn using a spinning wheel or occasionally a distaff and spindle. In contrast to spinning, handloom weaving was done by both sexes, but men outed women.
Men monopolized highly skilled preparation and finishing processes such as wool combing and cloth-dressing. With mechanization, the gender division of labor changed. Women used the spinning jenny and water frame, but mule spinning was almost exclusively a male occupation because it required more strength, and because the male mule-spinners actively opposed the employment of female mule-spinners.
Women mule-spinners in Glasgow, and their employers, were the victims of violent attacks by male spinners trying to reduce the competition in their occupation. Both sexes were employed as powerloom operators. James Mitchell to the Central Board of Commissioners, respecting the Returns made from the Factories, and the obtained from them. While the highly skilled and highly paid task of mule-spinning was a male occupation, many women and girls were engaged in other tasks in textile factories. For example, the wet-spinning of flax, introduced in Leeds in , employed mainly teenage girls.
Girls often worked as assistants to mule-spinners, piecing together broken thre. In fact, females were a majority of the factory labor force. Table Two shows that 57 percent of factory workers were female, most of them under age Women were widely employed in all the textile industries, and constituted the majority of workers in cotton, flax, and silk. Outside of textiles, women were employed in potteries and paper factories, but not in dye or glass manufacture.
Of the women who worked in factories, 16 percent were under age 13, 51 percent were between the ages of 13 and 20, and 33 percent were age 21 and over. On average, girls earned the same wages as boys. Beginning at age 16, and a large gap between male and female wages appeared.
At age 30, women factory workers earned only one-third as much as men. The y-axis shows the percentage of total employment within each sex that is in that five-year age category. Wage-earners in agriculture generally fit into one of two broad — servants who were hired annually and received part of their wage in room and board, and day-laborers who lived independently and were paid a daily or weekly wage.
Before industrialization servants comprised between one-third and one-half of labor in agriculture. Most servants were young and unmarried. Because servants were paid part of their wage in kind, as board, the use of the servant contract tended to fall when food prices were high. During the Industrial Revolution the use of servants seems to have fallen in the South and East. While servants lived with the farmer and received food and lodging as part of their wage, laborers lived independently, received fewer in-kind payments, and were paid a daily or a weekly wage. Though the majority of laborers were male, some were female.
Table Four shows the percentage of laborers who were female at various farms in the lateth and earlyth centuries. These s suggest that female employment was widespread, but varied considerably from one location to the next. Compared to men, female laborers generally worked fewer days during the year. The employment of female laborers was concentrated around the harvest, and women rarely worked during the winter. While men commonly worked six days per week, outside of harvest women generally averaged around four days per week.
Sotheron-Estcourt s, G. D; Ketton-Cremer s, N. The wages of female day-laborers were fairly uniform; generally a farmer paid the same wage to all the adult women he hired. Women generally worked shorter days, though, so the gap in hourly wages was not quite this large. Enclosure increased farm size and changed the patterns of animal husbandry, both of which seem to have led to reductions in female employment.
While women frequently harvested with the sickle, they did not use the heavier scythe. Women had more work in the West, which specialized more in livestock and dairy farming. During the eighteenth century there were many opportunities for women to be productively employed in farm work on their own , whether they were wives of farmers on large holdings, or wives of landless laborers. In a village that had a commons, even if the family merely rented a cottage the wife could be self-employed in agriculture because she could keep a cow, or other animals, on the commons. By careful management of her stock, a woman might earn as much during the year as her husband earned as a laborer.
Women also gathered fuel from the commons, saving the family considerable expense. The enclosure of the commons, though, eliminated these opportunities. In an enclosure, land was re-ased so as to eliminate the commons and consolidate holdings.
Even when the poor had clear legal rights to use the commons, these rights were not always compensated in the enclosure agreement. While enclosure occurred at different times for different locations, the largest waves of enclosures occurred in the first two decades of the nineteenth century, meaning that, for many, opportunities for self-employment in agriculture declined as the same time as employment in cottage industry declined.
Only a few opportunities for agricultural production remained for the landless laboring family.Married women looking Manchester
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