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Gender discrimination in 19thc England: Evidence from factory children

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  • Sara Horrell

    () (University of Cambridge)

  • Deborah Oxley

    () (University of Oxford)

Abstract

Gender bias against girls in nineteenth-century England has received much interest but establishing its existence has proved difficult. We utilise data on heights of 16,402 children working in northern textile factories in 1837 to examine whether gender bias was evident. Current interpretations argue against any difference. Here our comparisons with modern height standards reveal greater deprivation for girls than for boys. But this result cannot be taken at face value. We query whether modern standards require adjustment to account for the later timing of puberty in historical populations and develop an alternative. Gender discrimination remains, although its absence amongst younger children precludes an indictment of culturally-founded gender bias. The height data must remain mute on the source of this discrimination but we utilise additional information to examine some hypotheses: occupational sorting, differential susceptibility to disease, poorer nutrition for girls, disproportionate stunting from the effects of nutritional deprivation, and type and amount of work undertaken, specifically labour additional to paid work in the domestic sphere. Of these, we favour housework as the main culprit, factory girls undertook more physical labour than factory boys and this was reflected in disproportionate stunting. The ‘double burden’ was, and remains, a form of gender discrimination.

Suggested Citation

  • Sara Horrell & Deborah Oxley, 2015. "Gender discrimination in 19thc England: Evidence from factory children," Oxford University Economic and Social History Series _133, Economics Group, Nuffield College, University of Oxford.
  • Handle: RePEc:nuf:esohwp:_133
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    File URL: http://www.economics.ox.ac.uk/materials/papers/13870/133.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Schofield, R. S., 1973. "Dimensions of illiteracy, 1750-1850," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 10(4), pages 437-454.
    2. Horrell, Sara & Humphries, Jane, 1992. "Old Questions, New Data, and Alternative Perspectives: Families' Living Standards in the Industrial Revolution," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 52(04), pages 849-880, December.
    3. Horrell Sara & Humphries Jane, 1995. "The Exploitation of Little Children: Child Labor and the Family Economy in the Industrial Revolution," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 32(4), pages 485-516, October.
    4. Humphries, Jane, 1990. "Enclosures, Common Rights, and Women: The Proletarianization of Families in the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 50(01), pages 17-42, March.
    5. Sara Horrell & Deborah Oxley, 2012. "Bringing home the bacon? Regional nutrition, stature, and gender in the industrial revolution," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 65(4), pages 1354-1379, November.
    6. Sara Horrell & Deborah Oxley, 2013. "Bargaining for basics? Inferring decision making in nineteenth-century British households from expenditure, diet, stature, and death," European Review of Economic History, Oxford University Press, vol. 17(2), pages 147-170, May.
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