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
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
- 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.
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.
above taken from
p12-15 and Traugott