English Individualism and Continental Altruism? Servants, Remittances and Welfare in Eighteenth-Century Rural Europe
Life-cycle service was one of the characteristic aspects of the European Marriage Pattern. The majority of the children of labourers and peasants left the household of their parents during adolescence to acquire material resources and skills in preparation of marriage. Whilst in service, adolescents could save part of their wages. As most of them worked in close geographical proximity to their family, children in service were also a potential source of income for their parents. This paper studies the nature, frequency and value of remittances from farm servants to their parents in three countries during the eighteenth century. Important differences emerge from this comparative study. Farm servants in Belgium and France frequently supported their parents financially with their earnings. In England parents could in most cases not rely on structural assistance from their unmarried adolescent children. I argue that property rights explain these differences. The absence of land that could be passed on through inheritance operated as a check to intergenerational solidarity.
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