Editor’s Note: Consider this a companion guide to the latest podcast over at the Stormer. I’ve chosen the Early Modern Era to illustrate what life was still like for men and women closer to our own historical epoch.
In Early Modern Europe, women worked considerably more than 3 to 4 hours a day. Household labor went on from dawn until dusk:
“One historian calculated how women divided their time, using the information contained in diaries and other similar sources. It is, of course, only a rough indication given that women did not do exactly the same things, depending on whether they lived in the city or the countryside, whether they were rich or poor, whether they were unmarried, married or widows, and whether they were young or old. In spite of this, the results are interesting and give us a vivid picture of tireless women constantly at work. The study showed that in Great Britain the preparation of food required 3 or 4 hours a day, fetching water and firewood about an hour, and lighting the fire and feeding small children another hour, making a total of 6 or 7 hours. On top of that, there was the time employed in the kitchen garden (1 hour) and milking and looking after the animals (2-3 hours), making bread and beer (3 hours a week for each activity) and from time to time the making of preserves and similar foods. But these activities relating to the preparation of food were obviously not all women had to do. Childcare took 3 hours a day, cleaning the house 2 hours, making clothes 2 hours, other activities concerning clothing 2 hours and washing clothes 4 hours.”
Raffaella Sarti, Europe At Home: Family and Material Culture, 1500-1800, p.190
In England, most couples married after their parents were already dead, who outside the highest levels of the aristocracy were not arranging their marriages. The lowest classes had the most freedom in their marital choices which were already heavily influenced by sexual attraction and popular notions of romantic love:
“The fact that many young people married after having spent many years in service away from home also undermined parental authority. On the other hand, the fact that in England the majority of the population married late meant that they married when their parents were already dead. Whatever the case, it appears that after 1660 only parents from the very highest levels of the aristocracy did not systematically grant their sons and daughters at least the right to veto any potential partner they might suggest.”
Raffaella Sarti, Europe At Home: Family and Material Culture, 1500-1800, p.288
In northwestern Europe, the average man married around age 27-28 and the average woman married around age 24-25. Marriage was expensive and nearly a fourth of the population never married:
“The situation was similar north-western Europe and for the middle and lower order in cities pretty much everywhere. … To get married you had to scrape together enough money to set up home on your own, and to do that, you had to work hard and be patient. With a bit of luck, a man could hope to marry around age 27-28 and women around 24-25. But it was not unusual to have to wait longer, nor did everyone succeed in their intent. There were those who never managed to save the absolute minimum required and therefore remained unmarried all their lives. In north-western Europe, the percentage of those who never married was high, although it varied according to the social group, the area and the period. In England from the mid-sixteenth century to the mid-nineteenth century, the figure fluctuated between 4 and 24 percent.”
Raffaella Sarti, Europe At Home: Family and Material Culture, 1500-1800, p.48
All of this is fanciful talk anyway.
There will never be any return to an imaginary medieval Arcadia. Only a small fraction of the American and European population works in agriculture. What’s more, the household tasks that women were still performing up until the Industrial Revolution have been almost completely eliminated.