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“Not Much Use in Disliking it”: The Work and Wages of Female Home Workers in London, 1897–1908

Research in Economic History

ISBN: 978-1-78441-782-6, eISBN: 978-1-78441-781-9

Publication date: 22 April 2015


This paper uses newly compiled data from two surveys of female home workers undertaken by the Women’s Industrial Council in London in 1897 and 1907 to investigate various issues related to their work and wages. The reports detail the occupations, average weekly earnings and hours, marital status, and household size, composition, and total income of approximately 850 female home workers, offering a unique, and as yet unused, opportunity to explore the labor market characteristics of the lowest-paid workers in the early twentieth century. Analysis of the data reveals that the female home workers who were surveyed were drawn overwhelmingly from poor households. Home workers were older than female factory workers, most were married or widowed, and the majority of married workers reported that their husbands were out of work, sick, disabled, or in casual or irregular work. Weekly wages and hours of work varied considerably by industry, but averaged about 7–9s. and 40–45 hours per week, with many workers reporting the desire for more work. The relationship between hours of work (daily and weekly) and hourly wages was negative, and the wives and daughters of men who were out of the labor force due to unemployment or illness tended to work longer hours at lower wages, as did women who lived in households where some health issue was present. These findings lend support to contemporary perceptions that women driven into the labor force by immediate household need were forced to take the lowest-paid work, whether because they lacked skill and experience or bargaining power in the labor market.




The origins of this paper were in the last chapter I wrote for my dissertation, and I am especially grateful to my graduate advisors at Cornell, George Boyer, Francine Blau, and George Jakubson, as well as to my Ithaca porch companions, Michael Strain, Kevin Roth, and Kirabo Jackson, and to my classmates Amanda Griffith and Ian Schmutte. I also thank Bob Allen, Jane Humphries, Avner Offer, Tim Hatton, Maria Stanfors, Melinda Miller, Stacey Jones, Ian Keay, and other participants of many seminars and conference sessions along the way, for helpful advice and suggestions. The paper was enormously improved by the comments and suggestions of an anonymous referee and the editors, Susan Wolcott and Chris Hanes. All errors are, of course, entirely my own.


Bean, J.S. (2015), "“Not Much Use in Disliking it”: The Work and Wages of Female Home Workers in London, 1897–1908", Research in Economic History (Research in Economic History, Vol. 31), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 193-239.



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