The industrial process which took place during this period and the expansion of capitalism which accompanied it clearly had an important effect on family life during this time . Yet whether the family experience was dramatically ‘altered’ due to a significant change in the role of women in the workplace , particularly in an economic sense, is not so clear.
Many claim that the transformation in working lives caused by mechanisation which in short saw the removal of work away from the home and the re location of labour to the factory, was the primary cause of changes in family relationships . This claim also implies the diminishing of traditional ‘cottage industry’ and the extinction of old skills and work methods as families migrated to the urban centres and factory towns .
This desertion of the countryside and abandonment of inherited skills , it is said by historians such as Cetty, took its toll largely on women’s economic roles. Yet other historians challenge this and claim by saying that the family unit far from changing stayed much the same as it always had, with its members holding it as the last bastion of security in a world of immense upheaval and change and that there was no significant division between work and family life.
The first point to make is that women’s opportunities did change, the extent of this change may be debated but it is important not to deny the existence of this transformation. Another important factor to note is that industrialisation was an extremely complex process which occurred at different times and to varying degrees of intensity in all the different countries of Europe. Anyway as it is argued by historians such as Le Pay, the change that did occur was that many women got jobs in factories and who is to say that this was an ‘opportunity’.
It was done out of necessity and lack of alternative which is not as positive as something one would normally associate with a new opportunity which we assume is something favourable. Some have argued that the new labour organisation was an incentive for many to marry younger so that beneficial economic partnerships were set up and entry into the workplace could be achieved at an earlier age. The fact that the average marriage age for a women dropped to 24. 2 years1 is not really substantial enough evidence to say that women were marrying young due to new economic priorities.
Again many use the fact that the average rate of births per family dropped from 9 to 7 in eighteenth century France 2 as proof that there were new opportunities for women as many were choosing to work rather than stay at home at care for children. Who are we to generalise on the motives of individual women? Yet I would say that rather than the emergence of new opportunity it was simply the old factor of economic necessity that forced women to seek work outside of the home.
This had always been a present factor so therefore we are not dealing with new opportunity bit traditional issues. The context has changed, work was no longer centred in the home, women had to leave the house and work in the factories which I think is the most likely explanation for a fall in birth rates. The former theory seems to suggest that a form of careerism was emerging amongst women, that they chose to follow new job opportunities rather than remain within the confines of motherhood .