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We use a unique source from the Swedish royal demesnes to examine the work and relative wages of women in sixteenth-century Sweden, an economic laggard in the early modern period. The source pertains to workers hired on yearly contracts, a type more representative of historical labour markets than day labour on large construction sites, and this allows us to observe directly the food consumed by workers. We speak to the debate on the ‘little divergence’ within Europe, as women’s work and gender differentials in pay is a key indicator of women’s relative autonomy and seen as a cause for the economic ascendency of the North Sea region during the period. We find small gender differentials among both unskilled and skilled workers, indicating that Sweden was a part of the ‘golden age’ for women. We argue that despite superficial equality, women’s economic outlooks were restrained in many other ways – including their access to higher-skilled work and jobs in the expanding parts of the economy – adding important nuance to the discussion about the relationship between women’s social position and economic growth in the early modern period.