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Marital status and economic activity: interpreting spinsters, wives and widows in pre-census population listings

This paper addresses the confusions between marital and occupational status in female descriptors, arguing that in order to calculate female labour force participation rates, we have to be able to read sources like population listings and early censuses in a much more careful way than has been done to date. For example, 'spinster' was used as an occupational descriptor alongside its connotation of an unmarried woman until at least 1801; 'Mrs' implied business ownership, not marriage; the general lack of occupational descriptors for married women did not necessarily mean they were unemployed, rather that enumerators omitted wives' occupations by convention; and that 'widow' was used only irregularly in an as yet unidentified pattern. Occupations missing from population listings are identified by different means. The conclusions about how to read population listings also have implications for the interpretation of later census returns.

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Paper provided by Department of Economic and Social History at the University of Cambridge in its series Working Papers with number 13.

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Length: 18 pages
Date of creation: 20 Jul 2012
Handle: RePEc:cmh:wpaper:07
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