Two Worlds of Female Labour: Gender Wage Inequality in Western Europe, 1300 - 1800

Lecture, 4 September 2018, Amsterdam, Netherlands


One of the possible explanations for the particular pre-industrial growth of regions such as Holland and England is the “European Marriage Pattern” (EMP). A central part of the hypothesis stresses the importance of wage labour by women: in order to bring about the favourable conditions of the EMP, women should have had access to the labour market and have earned a decent wage. This may translate itself in a smaller gender wage gap and the possibility that women earn their own living and have the option to remain single. But so far little is known about how much women earned in the past. In this paper we therefore provide evidence on the wages of unskilled women for six European countries between 1300 and 1800. Our evidence shows that there were two worlds of female labour. In the South of Europe the gender wage gap was relatively high. In the Northern and Western parts of Europe the gap was much smaller confirming why the EMP emerged in this particular region of the world.

Alexandra de Pleijt

is a Postdoctoral Research fellow in economic history at the University of Oxford. She analyses long-run economic growth within Europe. Recent research studying patterns of per capita GDP between 1300 and 1900 has shown that, in Holland and Britain, the classic period of the Industrial Revolution was preceded by an earlier growth spurt. Between 1300 and 1700, levels of per capita GDP had already doubled. In her research she studies the drivers of this phase of pre-industrial growth. For instance, together with Professor Broadberry, she provides annual estimates of capital formation and the stock of physical capital in Britain and Holland to provide growth accounts for both countries over the very long-run. Alexandra is also studying the relationship between human capital formation and industrialisation, for which she focuses on Britain during the period of the Industrial Revolution.

IISH Seminar

This lecture is part of the monthly IISH Seminar series. In principle, seminars take place every first Tuesday of the month. The seminar is open to the public, but with regard to accommodation, we would like you to register with Jacqueline Rutte, jacqueline.rutte [at]