The Working Classes in Revolutionary France

Working Class Families



  • 1830 / 1832

  • 1848

    Works Cited

  • The Working Class family remained a unit of economic production over the course of the nineteenth century.


       Family life consisted ideally of a breadwinner, a spouse, and children. Although this model probably sounds familiar to all of us today it was just coming into vogue. Previously, women had always worked in agriculture. Now with the industrial revolution the possibilty of a wife who stayed home became the ideal for the working classes, although it was often far from reality.



    This portion of a drawing depicts a poor family. Although they are obviously downtrodden, they are clinging together.



    • worked as childrearing permitted, or as needed economically.
    • click here for a description of women's occupational opportunities outside the home.
    • women were an indispensible part of cottage industry.
    • according to one estimate about one half of Parisian wives worked outside the home. (Traugott 16)


    Whatever occupation a breadwinner had, the greatest fear of a working class family was that some illness or injury would befall him. Death and industrial accidents were much more common during this period than today, and there was no government assistance or public insurance to help families. Some trades developed their own insurance in the form of a mutual aid society. Everyone paid into a pot and then it could be used to support people or their families in times of need.

     Joseph Voisin, a French carpenter at the turn of the century on the economic importance of older children:

    "The children began to grow up. The house prospered--we then had a small business selling food and drinks. The mother and daughters took care of that. In 1907, my two sons began to work with me . . . From this time on, we emerged little by little from our former poverty.


    • each family typically had several children, and often they died in infancy or early childhood. However, infant mortality rates declined over the course of the century and birthrates declined as well.
    • the children were expected to contribute to the family's economic well being by working to help support the family at a young age. Many began work by 10 or 12 years of age.
    • all children whose families were engaged in cottage industry were expected to contribute.
    • At the beginning of the nineteenth century most male children stayed in the same occupations their fathers were in, but even in the later part of the century, the family decided what trade would be best for a young man. Female children usually did not envision work as part of their future and fell into whatever was available as circumstances demanded.
     Information above taken from Maynes p12-15 and Traugott