The Economic History Review

Domestic service, gender, and wages in rural England, c.1700–18601

Volume 66 Issue 1
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Pages: 249-272Authors: JACOB F. FIELD
Published online: April 12, 2012DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-0289.2011.00648.x

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Domestic service was a vital occupational sector in England in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries–particularly for women. This article uses a new series of wage observations from across England, focusing on rural areas. Analysis of the dataset shows that wages paid to servants in rural England slightly increased over the period considered, but at uneven rates dependent on region and precise occupation of servant. The majority of servants, particularly maids, did not experience any significant increase in the wages they were paid. This article also shows a widening wage gap between male and female servants. When differences between regions were analysed, it was shown that the wages paid to servants did not match the model of the north becoming the high wage zone of England by the mid-nineteenth century, although rates of growth there were the highest. For servants the south generally remained an area of higher wages even in the mid-nineteenth century. Geography was probably not the key variable in determining wage levels. The type of household in which a servant was employed was more important than where it was located. The most important variables were the servants’ gender, and their occupations in the household.