Working women and guildsmen in the Flemish textile industries: Gender, labor and the European Marriage Pattern in an era of economic change
Paper given at the University of Pennsylvania on March 20, (2012)
Introduction: One of the major themes of pre-modern European history to capture the imagination of historians the past decades is certainly the so-called European marriage pattern. In the wake of other key variables to explain the great divergence between Northwest European society (and even Western society in general) and other parts of the world, the particularities of western European demographic behavior have been called in to explain often diverse, sometimes even blatantly contradictory arguments as to why particular European regions were able to develop efficient labor markets that pushed gender relations into a more egalitarian, less patriarchal system and, therefore, achieving greater efficiency and market integration, and as to why the marriage pattern locked women into subdued and life-cycle determined positions on the labor market and how this eventually led to the system of the companionate nuclear family, where woman’s role was defined in terms of the household economy.
The rediscovery of the central place of HAJNAL‟s model may also throw light on the patterns of urbanization, economic organisation and industrial change that defined the periods of medieval growth and decline. Traditionally the European marriage pattern (EMP) is considered as one of the key elements in the demographic history of Early Modern Europe, preparing Europe for the transition towards the Industrial Era. But recently, mediaevalists have also tried to claim its origins, and in the wake of the leading demographic and social historians of the late middle ages like David HERLIHY, some have even pinpointed its rise in the period of demographic crisis Europe experienced in the middle of the 14th century, following the first outbreak of the Black Death. It must be stressed, however, that the empirical (and, of course, above all the quantitative) base for this assumption is very thin. Except for crisis mortality, medieval sources rarely supply unequivocal proof for establishing fine chronologies for demographic change.