The Economic History Review

Cottage industry, migration, and marriage in nineteenth‐century England

Volume 61 Issue 4
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Pages: 798-819Authors: NIGEL GOOSE
Published online: September 26, 2008DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-0289.2007.00413.x

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There has been considerable debate concerning the impact of the industrial employment of women upon their demographic behaviour in nineteenth-century England. This article assesses the impact of employment in the cottage industry of straw plait and hat making in the county of Hertfordshire, comparing and contrasting districts where the industry was prominent with those where it was not. It is discovered that in 1851 the availability of straw industry employment encouraged earlier marriage, most notably in those parishes where the industry was particularly heavily concentrated, although overall levels of nuptiality and proportions ultimately marrying were similar in straw and non-straw areas alike. By 1871, however, the skewed sex ratio that such employment produced among young adults served to offset this positive effect. As the industry waned in the later nineteenth century, the experience of different regions of the county converged, while throughout the period the data suggest that urban/rural contrasts and the suburbanization of London produced more stark contrasts in female marriage patterns than did the availability of cottage industry employment.