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Mesure de l'Histoire

A Gendered View of Family Budgets in Mid-nineteenth Century Barcelona

Cristina Borderías et Pilar Lopez
p. 113-146


Les budgets familiaux et le « genre » au milieu du xixe siècle à Barcelone

Cet article cherche à analyser les différentes stratégies employées par les familles pour minimiser le risque de pauvreté et mesurer leur efficacité à Barcelone dans la première phase de l’industrialisation. La ville était la capitale économique de la Catalogne et, pour cette raison, le centre d’intérêt des statisticiens sociaux et des réformateurs de la société de cette époque. La base statistique que nous utilisons est issue de la reconstruction de budgets familiaux et de leur croisement avec des données sur les ménages issues du Registre Municipal de 1848, ainsi qu’avec les informations disponibles sur les salaires et la consommation. Les résultats indiquent que les travailleurs qualifiés n’étaient pas les seuls à percevoir « un salaire familial » et que le travail des femmes et des enfants ne constituaient pas une composante marginale de l’économie familiale. Les ménages qui dépendaient d’un seul revenu n’étaient pas seulement vulnérables face aux crises de l’emploi mais aussi devant les aléas du cycle familial. En revanche, les stratégies qui impliquaient l’accumulation de revenus et de services suggèrent une plus grande flexibilité et une véritable capacité à s’adapter aux secousses infligées par le marché.

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Entrées d’index

Géographie :

Espagne et Portugal

Chronologie :

XIXe siècle
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Notes de la rédaction

This paper is the product of research carried out as part of the research project « Employment, qualification and gender in the creation of the Barcelona labour market, 1840-1930 ». National R+D Plan, Programme of Women’s and Gender Studies, Ministry of Education and the Women’s Institute, 2000-2002.

Texte intégral

1Barcelona was a centre of Mediterranean trade in the later Middle Ages and, until the beginning of the eighteenth century, was the political and administrative capital of the Principality of Catalonia. The economic recovery of the eighteenth century, which came after Barcelona had lost this status, gave renewed impetus to the production of handicrafts and to overseas trade, while at the same time stimulating the growth of the population of the city and its suburbs. The waves of migration that accompanied the establishment of the textile manufacturing industry at the end of the eighteenth century grew more intense during the phase of mechanisation and accelerated growth in the nineteenth century (between 1830 and 1860).

2In 1857, almost 15 per cent of the regional population worked and resided in Barcelona, which had a population of 190,000 inhabitants. The city was the economic capital of Catalonia, and, at that time, the first and only industrial city in the Spanish state. The history of Barcelona differs significantly from that of other cities in Catalonia or other cities of Spain that have drawn historians’ attention. Neither does it fit easily into the pattern of development seen in the English cities which emerged during the Industrial Revolution — the usual framework in which the levels of working-class well-being have been analysed. Parallels can be more readily drawn with some French or Italian cities, such as Marseille or Milan, which are similar to Barcelona in human and historical terms, and which have a comparable weight within the Mediterranean region1. For these reasons, it is interesting to analyse standards of living among the working classes of Barcelona, an area that was a focus of attention in the social statistics of the nineteenth century2.

1. The debate on living standards in mid-nineteenth century Barcelona

3Laurea Figuerola and Ildefonso Cerdà, among others, set the terms of the debate on the impact of industrialisation on living standards in Barcelona, and particularly on the condition of the lower classes. Figuerola (1849) analysed series of vital statistics from the 1840s and observed that the inhabitants of Barcelona were divided into three social classes, which represented different proportions of urban society. The middle class, together with the class of artisans, « does not yet account for half the population (....) while the proletariat constitutes 52.76 per cent » He concluded, however, that the differences in life expectancy by class, a reliable indicator of relative well-being, were smaller in 1848 than at the end of the eighteenth century. Barcelona offered living conditions that were favourable in comparison with other population centres at the time. As a result, it was a magnet for migration in the region. Cerdà (1864) extended and reformulated Figuerola’s statistical research, adding to the treatment of demographic data an analysis of working class wages and consumption. In 1856, the census of workers counted 54,272 individuals. They belonged to 171 occupations; 32,223 were male and 22,049 were female. 80 per cent of the males and 94 per cent of the females were adults, while the rest of each sex were minors (15 per cent of the total). Those under the age of eight were not included. According to this data, working-class families living on salaries made up approximately half of the Barcelona population. Cerdà calculated family budgets based on an ideal model consisting of a married couple and two children (minors) during their first eight years of life. In doing so Cerdà intended to calculate the cost of family self-reproduction.

4Cerdà’s income calculations relied on the assumption that the father was the main wage earner and that wages earned by his wife were supplementary. Living expenses were based on the subsistence cost for the couple and two children over a 40-year family cycle. These assumptions led Cerdà to conclude that in 1856 the wages of 80% of the male working class were below the minimum family level of subsistence. Because of the difficulties experienced by families attempting to subsist and reproduce, the growth of the city depended on the excess population generated in the region, which was the driving force behind immigration.

5Cerdà’s assumptions regarding income and spending for a working-class family with two children were rather abstract and were intended to justify the demand for paying married men in various occupations an adequate wage – a family wage – that would allow married women to dedicate themselves to domestic tasks and raising children, and eliminate the deficit in Barcelona working-class family budgets. As this was his purpose, Cerdà focused on wages earned by adult men, which were regarded as the key factor in the household economy. Nevertheless, the 1856 data he collected for Barcelona indicate that the contribution made by women was three times greater than that which he attributed to them: Cerdà sets their daily contribution to family income at 1.6 reals; whereas according to his information on wages, the average daily wage for women was 4.5 reals. A rigid segregation of the sexes in the labour market relegated women to occupations and labour categories in which the average wage was approximately 50 per cent of the average man’s wage. In spite of this, the data indicate that women made a much more substantial contribution to family subsistence than has been supposed. Furthermore, the information collected by Cerdà documented types of employment for which retribution was partly in the form of accommodation and/or board. This was the case for servants, the most common occupation for women, and for apprentices, but also for certain working men in the area of food production and services. Cerdà’s calculations did not take into account the non-wage income of households, so these and other difficult-to-estimate forms of income were not included in the balance of family economies, even though the author himself collected information about their existence and about the amounts involved3.

6Figuerola and Cerdà calculated the first socio-demographic statistics for Barcelona and were responsible for the preservation of information that is not available for other population centres of the period. Their work makes it possible to undertake an analysis of living standards for working-class families in Barcelona at the time. The discovery of Barcelona’s first municipal register for the nineteenth century has provided additional data which make it possible to move from the abstract calculations used by Cerdà (based on the modelisation of family budget) to an analysis that reflects the actual composition of families in Barcelona. This paper presents a comparative analysis of different subsistence strategies developed by families in Barcelona in 1848. The composition of families and the labour profile of their members are taken into account. An attempt is also made to formulate interpretive hypotheses concerning the comparative efficiency of these strategies.

7Over the last thirty years, widely popularised historical studies have firmly established certain theses. We now know that in pre- and post-industrial societies households were structured around the nuclear family. It has also been established that different types of household all had some relationship to the existing system for transmitting property from one generation to the next, to the availability of employment and income within the family, and to the life expectancy of individuals. The family could be opened up to relatives and married children, giving rise to extended and multiple households. Households could also be reinforced and/or assume responsibility for apprentices and servants4. These variations in the composition of households were a response to economic and demographic factors.

8A key question in the debate over the subsistence capacity of families is whether or not there were stages in the individual and family cycle in which the deficit between income and spending was more pronounced and the danger of poverty greater. It has been argued that households in the initial stage of formation were particularly at risk, as were those headed by the elderly or widows who faced the task of maintaining a family with wages lower than those earned by men5.

9Historians and social scientists now take a much longer-term view of family economies and look more carefully at their socio-economic contexts. There is now a relatively extensive body of empirical material concerning the varied relationships between standards of living on one hand, and the biological cycle, size and composition of families and households on the other. According to some authors, Rowntree’s model, while well fitted to the industrial economies of the nineteenth century, is not as readily applicable to the pre-industrial period. Before industrialisation, because most working-class people were so poor, factors such as family size or the presence of children and the age at which they began work had no influence on a family’s standard of living6.

10Contemporary historical studies tend to see the work done by women in industrial societies from the same perspective adopted by Cerdà in examining the Barcelona of 1856: their contribution is considered to have been limited by their responsibility for domestic tasks, particularly child-raising. Moreover modern writers think of women’s share of domestic income as minor; because it was an unstable revenue, it is believed to have been merely a supplement to the earnings of the male family head7.

11In any case, historians have begun to show the relevance of contributions made by women and children to family economies. They have also started to demonstrate the importance of taking into account differences in economic development models, stages of industrialisation, occupations, sectors and status within the working class, the evolution of men’s salaries, and family life cycles. In relation to the last of these factors, attention has been focused on the relevance of wives’ incomes during the first stage of the family formation cycle, at least in those families in which the husband’s wage was not sufficient to ensure survival. The wife’s wage remained critical until one of the children could earn a wage that would substitute for it. In such circumstances, the presence of children who had not yet reached working age was an incentive for women to participate in the workforce, rather than an obstacle8. The impact of this strategy on the family economy varied according to the economic context, the opportunities available to women in the labour market9, the wage levels of labour groups10, and the standard of living or family culture11.

12Changes in these strategies occurred in the nineteenth century as a result of a series of factors: compulsory education, declining fertility, and a more diversified and stronger demand for women in the labour market. Most recent authors refer to the need to take account of women’s employment opportunities and wage levels in explaining women’s labour activity. Nevertheless, paid work done by married women is still seen as secondary to the impact on the family of demographic or economic factors tied to the cycle of family life. Key among these factors is the income level of the husband12. This limited perspective on the work done by married women results partly from the sources from which many of these studies were drawn: they did not permit a view of women’s work beyond the family context. Such source limitations are difficult to overcome.

13In the context of these historical debates, our paper, as mentioned above, seeks to analyse different strategies used by families in Barcelona around the middle of the nineteenth century in order to compare their relative levels of efficiency. Our working hypothesis is that there were various strategies that families could take to minimise the risk of poverty. One was to incorporate one or more additional incomes, earned by the wife, children or relatives. Alternatively, or in addition to this measure, they could try to benefit from the value of goods and services that came, in part, from outside the labour market. This occurred, for instance, when relatives capable of providing domestic services were incorporated in the household, and, in return, were maintained by it. It also happened when the cost of feeding children was reduced through apprenticeship; or when part of the wage income of a sub-tenant without his or her own family obligations became part of the household income in exchange for accommodation and services. All of these were workable options in Barcelona: the qualifications required in the labour market were diverse; many young migrants came to the city to meet the needs of this market, and the demand for women’s work was high mainly due to the textile sector and domestic service. These strategies depended partially on flexibility in the forms of co-residence adopted.

14In order to test this hypothesis, we used the 1848 municipal register to compare domestic economies that were dependent on the income of a male family head with those in which there was more than one wage income. In both cases, we sought to examine households at different points in the cycle of family life. In doing this, we can observe the conditions which both make it necessary and possible to include secondary incomes and extra value in the form of personal and domestic services. In addition to households organised around the family, in which the cost of reproduction is added to that of subsistence, we have also looked at households consisting of unmarried workers, some of them immigrants, and some not (Table 1). These are examples of a model of household in which income is not immediately allocated to reproduction, though such households may be part of family social-mobility strategies. The approach taken in this paper is in line with that adopted in studies of « family strategies » – a perspective whose weak points and conclusions have been the subject of considerable and well-focused reflection13.

2. Family strategies in urban industrial society

The sources: the 1848 municipal register and the Statistical Monograph on the Working Class in 1856

15An earlier study of Cerdà’s statistical monograph allowed us to clean up the data he compiled on wages, consumption and family budgets in 1856 Barcelona. The 1848 municipal register is a source of data on forms of co-residence and family structures. It also includes the declaration of active and inactive members of households for Barcelona in 184814. Strictly speaking, the data contained in the two sources is not readily linked. The municipal register is a primary source that documents all types of households, not just those of workers. The identification of working-class households dependent on a wage-earner such as a day-labourer, a common labourer or a factory worker, is relatively reliable. In one sector of the population, however, the line separating the artisan who still retained his productive autonomy from the worker fully incorporated in the dynamic of the market economy is unclear, because they registered according to their profession and not their status. Thus, a carpenter could be either a master artisan or a working-class toiler in a textile factory. Furthermore, there are households that could be classified as « artisan » if the father’s occupation is considered, or as « working-class » if the criterion is the sons’ or daughters’ occupation (or vice versa). The municipal register indicates only the main occupation of individuals, and therefore refers only indirectly to domestic economies. The reliability of this information depends on the registrar’s sensitivity to the distinctions when he registered individuals’ occupations. This information was almost always recorded for the heads of family, whether men or women, and often also for co-residents tied to the head of the family by profession and place of birth. It was less frequently noted in the case of working-age sons, and only in exceptional cases for wives, daughters and relatives. Moreover, many members of the working class registered simply as workers, day labourers or labourers, at best specifying the generic occupation or sector in which they were employed. Consequently, no information was provided on whether they worked in the home, in a workshop or in a factory. Needless to say, there is no indication of the specific position occupied, which makes it difficult to determine the wage earned.

16Data on wages and cost of living were obtained from the « Monografía Estadística de la clase obrera en Barcelona en 1856 » (Statistical Monograph on the Working Class…) by I. Cerdà. Its Alphabetical Indicator of arts and occupations includes information on wages, forms of retribution for each occupation according to sex and age, and annual working days. Information on the cost of goods and services were obtained from data on single and married workers’ expenditures and make it possible to estimate the subsistence cost of the different household members.

17Linking the information obtained from the municipal register on individuals and households to the data in the Monograph does not yield precise information about the absolute levels of income and spending for each of the households studied. It does however make it possible to determine the relative subsistence capacity of different types of household according to their composition at a specific time. We can assume for the sake of analysis that there were no additions or departures as the result of surpluses or shortages in the domestic economy at another stage of its life cycle. In any case, relating the composition of households to their budgetary balance makes it possible to establish a hypothesis concerning the transfer of goods and services between households, or within one family, between elements at different stages in their life cycles. This approach also provides a means to contrast the budgetary balance of the households described in the Barcelona municipal register with that of the family model on which Cerdà based his calculations.

Reconstruction and calculation of family budgets

18The procedural steps in this exercise were as follows:

Selection of household types

19The proportion in which different types of household were represented in Barcelona is skewed because of migration, which increased the proportion of one-person, non-family and complex households. In 1848, the majority of households in Barcelona were organised around a family structure – simple nuclear, extended or multiple. Such households constituted 83 per cent of the total; seventeen per cent were headed by widows or widowers, and 66 per cent were organised around a married couple. The majority of complete family households were made up of one or two dependent children. Co-residence of parents with more children or of childless couples was less common (Table 1).

20In order to compare the relative subsistence levels of different types of household, it was not necessary to employ a quantitatively significant sample: it was enough to draw on the full range of cases described in the municipal register. Fourteen cases were selected for study. An attempt was made to include among the family households cases corresponding to different stages of family life. Also, in view of the objective of establishing the necessary conditions for subsistence and reproduction, households with a large number of children were given preference in the selection process. This criterion was applied both in the case of complete households and for those headed by widowed mothers. Our particular interest in households of young unmarried women led us to include two of this type. The cases considered do not include any one-person households, or any single-parent or non-family households headed by men. These three household types were uncommon in Barcelona at the time: none of them represented more than 5 per cent of total households. Moreover, single-parent and non-family households headed by men were not considered to be at risk.

21Twelve family households – the majority type in Barcelona – were selected for examination. The nine complete family households considered include four in the initial stage of the biological family cycle; another four in the middle stage of the family cycle (covering both those with children who had not yet entered the labour market and those with somewhat older children, some of whom could make some contribution to the domestic economy); and, finally, one household which exemplified the final stage of the biological family cycle. It was in the most advanced stages of the family cycle that the maintenance of the family was most likely to become the responsibility of a widowed mother, as was the case for the three households selected that were made up of widows with children. Thus, the household types selected include families at all the different stages of life.

22Among the twelve households are three that were considered large families; these were families with more than two children, able therefore to ensure generational replacement. Households of this type were less common than those with no children or with only one or two. The selection of three family households made up of widows with children reflects pretty accurately the frequency of households of this type in Barcelona at that time. Among family households, the majority consisted of a single family nucleus; a minority included more than one family nucleus. It is now generally accepted that the universal predominance of simple households over extended or multiple households is related to the family life cycle. The selection of cases includes simple, extended and multiple households in proportions similar to those found in Barcelona in 1848.

23Non-family households headed by women made up 8 per cent of total households in Barcelona. The two cases selected for inclusion (of the total fourteen households) represent a proportion higher than that found in the municipal register. This reflects the specific interest of this paper in examining the particular conditions of women’s labour.

24The selection does not take into account households headed by persons over fifty-five years of age, though 34 per cent of Barcelona households were of this type. Consequently, two types of households are over-represented. The first is composed of those households headed by persons under thirty-five. Because non-family households headed by young unmarried women are included under this head, this group constitutes 43 per cent of cases examined although only15 per cent of households in Barcelona were of this kind. The second kind are those households headed by men or women between the ages of thirty-five and fifty-four, who made up 57 per cent of our cases as against 49 per cent of Barcelona households.

25In line with our aim of measuring the economic capacity of households, we also took two other factors into account in the selection process. First, the relationship between those people who were active in the labour force and their dependents. This was to a certain extent determined by the previous step. Second, the occupation of the family head and that of other employed household members. In the declaration of occupation in the municipal register, the marital status of women is a significant variable: only 20 per cent of married women indicated that they were employed, compared to about half the unmarried women and widows. These proportions are the same as in the cases selected for analysis. The selection includes occupations that are highly frequent in the municipal register and others that are less common, as well as occupations that require qualification and others that do not.

Calculation of household budgets

26— Income was determined from the wage data (according to occupation, category and age) included in I. Cerdà’s Statistical Monograph. When the labour category was not included in the municipal register, the average wage for the occupation was applied. When, in addition to the occupation, the labour category is known (labourer or skilled worker), the corresponding wage was used. For those simply designated as « labourers », we used the average labourer wage. In all cases, the wage most likely to correspond to each individual’s age and position in the family was assigned, based on the range of wages (maximum, average and minimum) indicated in the Monograph. In addition to the wage income of the household members who declared an occupation, a supplementary amount of 1.16 reals was also included for wives who did not declare any income. This is consistent with Cerdà’s general assumption that married women who were not employed outside of the home used to do some work at home to earn at least this amount. The authors of this paper are aware of the limitations of this procedure (Tables 2 and 3).

27— Expenses were assigned to all members of the family, taking into account the consumption data contained in the Monograph and adjusting the food expense in accordance with the age and sex of the individuals. Cerdà assigned 54 per cent of the total expenses of a married man, his wife and two children under the age of eight to food expenses. Food expenses were re-evaluated because the approach taken in the Monograph underestimated that expense for children and wives: in the Monograph, food expenses for the first eight years of children’s lives were pro-rated over the forty years of family life, and an exceptionally low consumption was attributed to wives. The pro-rating applied to the members of the family explains the fact that in Cerdà’s calculations the food expense for an unmarried man (not pro-rated and increased by the profit margin of the proprietor of the boarding house) was substantially greater than that of a married man. In re-estimating these expenses, we considered the indices of consumption by age and sex constructed for contemporary rural societies (adopted by Wrigley, Schofield and Woolf, among others). These indices attribute a level of consumption to adult women that is somewhat higher than Cerdà’s estimate: three-quarters of the husband’s consumption rather than two-thirds. The consumption of children under the age of eight represents one quarter of that of an adult male, both in Cerdà’s assumptions and in Wrigley and Schofield’s indices16 (Tables 4 and 5).

28— The daily household deficit or surplus was calculated, taking into account the composition of the household as well as the wages and other resources drawn on by the members of the family. This information is useful as a basis for comparing the economic situation of different households (Table 6).

Results: the economic balance of the households

Complete family households

29Table 6A shows the composition and budget for the nine family households at different points in the biological family cycle (organised in three sections that group families at the same point in the cycle).

30— The initial stage of the family cycle

31Four families (1, 2, 3, and 4 in Table 6) were made up of parents with one or two children under the age of three. The heads of family ranged in age from twenty-six to thirty-three. Two of these families were nuclear, and the other two were extended families (incorporating relatives). In two of the families, the wife was employed, while in the other two no occupation was declared. The qualification level of the workers also varied: the occupations of three of the four heads of family – carpenter, bricklayer and labourer – were very common in Barcelona. The fourth, a maintenance technician for steam-operated machinery, was a minority case.

32Comparison of the economic balances for these households shows how decisive paid work done by women was in determining the families’ living standard, and indicates that other sources of income had a more limited economic impact. This observation is valid both for families in which the fathers were qualified workers and for those in which they lacked qualifications.

33For instance, a skilled carpenter aged thirty-three who declared that his wage was the only source of family income was barely able to maintain his family: in order to do so, he needed extra income from his wife – the income that Cerdà systematically assigns to married women (Table 6A, household 1). By contrast, the combined wages of a couple with similar family responsibilities – a 30-year-old maintenance technician and a 26-year-old spinner – were enough to employ a servant and allow them to save almost one fifth of their income (household 2). Both of these occupations were relatively well paid.

34It is evident in the case of families 3 and 4 that this observation also applies to less qualified workers. If the woman earned a wage outside the home and mutual assistance was provided between women in the same family, it was more efficient in economic terms than it was for the woman to remain at home, even though doing so would allow the family to gain extra income by letting rooms. For instance, in the case of the 26-year-old labourer and the 20-year-old worker with a newborn child, the woman’s work outside the home together with the domestic assistance provided by the mother-in-law solved their problems, and a subsistence level of income was easily ensured. In contrast, the family of a 28-year-old bricklayer’s assistant, his 29-year-old wife (who declared no occupation) and their one-year-old child was unable to reach a subsistence level even by providing accommodation for another labourer.

35— The middle stage of the formation cycle with dependent children

36Two families (5 and 6 in Table 6) were made up of parents with more than two children aged between two and twelve. In both cases, only the fathers declared occupations (textile printer and printer). The printer had an uncommon trade that required qualifications. Households 5 and 6 exemplify the precarious situation in which families with more than two children found themselves until those children reached working age. Family 5 was made up of a 38-year-old textile printer (the head of the family), his 31-year-old wife, who did not declare any occupation, and three children aged two, three and seven. Only by letting a room was this family able to reach the subsistence level. Family 6 consisted of a 41-year-old qualified printer, who was the head of the family, his 37-year-old wife and not three, but four, children, aged six, eight, ten and twelve. The head of the family was the only one to provide an income for the family unit, and, so the source claimed, the family was unable to cover its costs. While family 5 was able to save a tenth of its income, family 6 had a deficit of a similar proportion.

37— The middle stage of the formation cycle with employed children

38Families 7 and 8 each include four children and were headed by fathers aged forty-four and forty-eight respectively. These families were at the point when the wives, now in their forties, did not declare an occupation, but at least one child had reached working age and provided an income in addition to that of the father, who was still active in the workforce. The employed sons’ were a braider and a confectionery-maker by trade. Braiders were a specialised category within the very general category of weavers; and, similarly, confectionery makers were a group that complemented bakers, kiln-tenders and operators employed in the production of semolina. As the heads of family had similar qualifications, the difference in the family economies depended on the occupations of the sons: in family 7, the son was a textile printer like his father, whereas in family 8, the 17-year-old son was a confectionery-maker. The latter occupation had a significantly lower wage, but included board, thereby reducing the strain on the family budget. It seems plausible that the first of these two families might have managed to keep two daughters, aged eighteen and fifteen, out of the labour market, but it is more difficult to understand how the second family, with a budgetary deficit, could afford to do without the wages of a 15-year-old son who was declared only as a student. The unusually leisured lifestyle of the children suggests that in neither case were the families declaring the full extent to which members were employed. In fact, in this socio-professional context, the high number of children is in itself an indicator of a level of relative well-being.

39— The advanced stage of the family cycle

40Family 9, the last complete family selected, consisted of a 47-year-old block engraver and his 43-year-old wife, who lived alone. This was probably a couple who, if they had had children, were a small family, not a numerous one. The absence of any dependents made it possible for them to attain a daily balance which allowed them to save half their income. This significant capacity to save suggests that parents – at least those with a certain level of qualification and income – could provide economic assistance to young people, or at least avoid becoming an economic burden on their households. This in turn would allow the children to maintain a lifestyle more in accord with the family ideals of the city’s artisans, with wives dedicated mainly to taking care of the family.

Family households headed by widows with children

41Section B of Table 6 includes three households (10, 11 and 12) headed by widows between the ages of thirty-nine and forty-four. These households exemplify a common situation in the advanced stage of the biological family cycle, in which women were forced to take primary responsibility for maintaining the family. Examination of these cases reveals why the rates of declared activity for widows and unmarried women were greater than that for married women. Two of the mothers were responsible for providing the highest wage within their respective households; the third was responsible only for domestic work. The main wages were contributed by a beam warper (an uncommon but highly qualified trade in the textile sector), a day-labourer (the most common and non-qualified registered category for women after domestic service) and a washerwoman (at a level of qualification midway between the other two).

42The household of the oldest widow, the beam warper, is without doubt a case of extreme poverty: with eight children between the ages of two and twenty-four and an aged mother, the daily deficit was equivalent to nearly 90 per cent of the income earned by the woman and her three oldest children. The children aged twelve, fourteen and twenty-four declared occupations: in these circumstances, there was no possible alternative for them but entering the workforce. The worst possible circumstances all came together in this household: a very early marriage, early childbearing, a short interval between the second and the eighth child, and an extended period of fertility (until the age of forty-two) followed by widowhood. The unsustainability of the household suggests that only external resources – from relatives or, more probably, charitable institutions – made it possible for domestic life to continue under the co-residence formula described in the municipal register.

43In the case of family 11, it was possible to overcome demographically adverse circumstances by including in the household relatives contributing wages or pensions. The household of this 39-year-old widow living with her mother and three children (aged fourteen, sixteen and eighteen) received assistance and income from a 31-year-old half-brother and an 18-year-old co-resident (in fact, a more distant relative). These wages allowed the household to get through the lapse of time necessary until the wages of the children, all of them employed already, could cover the deficit. Recourse to relatives is not, however, the only means households of this type had to ensure subsistence.

44Family 12 was made up of a washerwoman living with two children aged ten and fifteen. In spite of the woman’s low wage, they were better off than many complete families: the washerwoman could afford to do without the wage her 15-year-old son could earn, thereby allowing him to train as a carpenter. During his apprenticeship, the son earned no wage, though in this period he did not need to be maintained by the household. The woman also had income from a sub-tenant, which helped.

45Families 10, 11 and 12 had been victims of misfortune. The widows, aged thirty-nine, forty and forty-four, were all natives of Barcelona. Their experience shows that even in these highly precarious circumstances the solutions of each family could be quite diverse.

Non-family households

46Section C of Table 6 outlines the data for two households (13 and 14 in Table 4) headed by unmarried women and made up exclusively of women. The non-industrial women’s occupations cover a wide range of frequencies and degrees of qualification, from domestic servants to dressmakers.

47Household 13 included four women. The one indicated as the head of the household was a 30-year-old unmarried spinner who was born near Barcelona and who had moved to the district in the year that the municipal register information was collected. She shared the household with two espadrille makers (a 38-year-old mother and 16-year-old daughter, from Vic and Mataró ), and a 26-year-old seamstress who was a Barcelona native. There are various indications that only the high cost of housing led the group to share this residence: they had only recently moved here; and, apart from the mother and daughter, they were not bound by any ties of kinship, occupation or place of origin. The combined incomes of these women allowed them easily to cover the cost of housing and eased their entry in the labour market.

48The second case, household 14, was made up of five women living together in one residence. The head of the household was a 24-year-old unmarried dressmaker, who was the mother of a newborn child. In addition to this family nucleus without legal status, the household included another dressmaker, aged fifty, who was inscribed as a co-resident (even though her age and long-standing residence in this dwelling-place ought to have qualified her as the head of the household), a 27-year-old seamstress and two servants aged thirty and sixteen. All of these women, with the exception of the 30-year-old servant, were born in Barcelona. In this case shared work seems to be the factor that led to the shared home. There are, however, various hypotheses to be considered in attempting to classify this home: it is possible that the servants were simply co-residents contributing an income to the household (an alternative we have not analysed). It seems more likely though that they performed domestic tasks in the home and attended to clients in a dressmaker’s workshop. If the second hypothesis is correct, the two dressmakers and the seamstress would not have the limited incomes which we have attributed to them. It is also possible that at least one of the servants may have worked without remuneration in exchange for apprenticeship in the trade. Since we cannot determine whether the dressmakers had a workshop of their own or were wage-earners sharing a residence, it is difficult to apply the criteria used to calculate income and expenses. The significant deficit is the result of attributing the cost of two servants to a household with three wages.

49Nearly half of these non-family household groups were headed by unmarried adult men or women at an age at which they were active in the workforce. They were not co-residence structures related to reproduction: their purpose was individual survival. These arrangements were the result of migration and of the opportunities for employment and social mobility from which the individuals involved were able to profit in this manner. Indirectly, such arrangements could help improve living conditions for members of the immediate family and other relatives who had not directly opted for migration. The first household considered in this category was clearly made up of working women employed in what could also be male occupations; in the other groups women were engaged in occupations specifically related to women.

Conclusions to be drawn: subsistence conditions

50The fourteen households examined, which cover a range of types and situations, make it possible to identify the conditions that make subsistence possible.

51The five households in deficit were those headed by a 28-year-old bricklayer’s assistant, a 41-year-old qualified printer, a 48-year-old braider, a 44-year-old widow employed as a beam warper, and an unmarried 24-year-old dressmaker. Analysis of these cases clearly indicates that the difficulties of subsistence were the result of a highly diverse set of circumstances that could come into play at any time: a low male wage, an excessive number of dependent children, a particular lifestyle, low women’s wages – together with the unpredictable impact of extremely adverse demographic events, or the high cost of housing and the generally high cost of living.

52Although our attempts at economic quantification offer only an approximation, the results are significant enough to indicate that households with a relative surplus were never in fact far from the subsistence level: men’s wages may have been higher than women’s, but as Cerdà’s data shows, not even skilled workers received a « family wage ».

53The households most efficient in ensuring survival and reproduction of their members were not always those which could count on the wage of a skilled worker and head of family. Households with two lower salaries could also achieve this, and at times with greater effectiveness. The most effective and dependable strategies were to count on the wage (however low) of a working wife, and to have young people enter the work force at an early age. Of the households examined, only those with more than one wage managed to achieve a significant daily surplus. Supplementary wages of this kind were provided by the 26-year-old wife who was a spinner, the 22-year-old son employed as a textile printer, and the 39-year-old widow’s son and two daughters – all workers. Added to the meagre salary of an unqualified worker or to income obtained by providing lodging, the work done by women was also clearly decisive in avoiding a deficit or ensuring that a son received job training, as in the case of the households headed by a 26-year-old labourer or a 40-year-old widow employed as a washerwoman. Finally, although the employment sectors open to women were limited, the work available, even at the low wage rates paid, was worthwhile for women workers sharing a residence, such as those considered in the preceding section. It can also be concluded that households entirely dependent on one income were more vulnerable, not only to the consequences of the labour crises of the first industrialisation, but also to the ups and downs of the family cycle. In contrast, strategies that involved the accumulation of incomes and services suggest greater flexibility and a capacity to adapt to the blows inflicted by the market.

54Mutual assistance between women was the most significant factor in determining women’s ability to face the challenge of migrating to the city alone or working outside the home while responsible for dependent children 16. The employment options of the 26-year-old spinner, for instance, were based on the support of a sister, those of the 20-year-old worker, on a mother-in-law living with the family. In a less direct way, the acceptance of a 70-year-old mother into the household of a 39-year-old widow (only possible because her children were employed) ensured the wage contribution of a half-brother and promoted an exchange of services between two related family nuclei. In return, the head of the household was able to assume responsibility for domestic tasks to the benefit of herself and the other six members of the household. Mutual support was also what allowed young migrant women to become established in the urban environment. These cases illustrate the diversity of the exchanges that took place between women. Such exchanges included the provision of assistance along migratory routes and in the process of settling in the city. Sharing of domestic tasks was another form of co-operation. This facilitated the entry of women in the labour market, allowing them to reap the benefits of employment, and, where possible, to ensure that their children received training and were able to achieve greater social mobility.

55Letting rooms was a less dependable strategy for families than accumulating incomes and services, to judge from the situations that have been examined here. Providing board and lodging was not a source of substantial income as it increased both the woman’s workload (cooking, washing and doing laundry for the lodger) and the expenditure on food. The price charged for board and lodging in Barcelona at that time was effectively limited by what an immigrant worker could afford to pay: 5-6 reals17. The high cost of housing had reduced the dimension of workers’ households to a minimum, so few lodgers could be accommodated. Given the cost of providing meals, profit was reduced to a maximum of 2 reals – an amount that was less than the lowest wage a woman could earn by working outside of the home or by doing piecework at home for workshops or factories. In spite of these circumstances, low wages for both men and women and the lack of any assistance in meeting the needs of children forced families to take in lodgers. In the case of the 28-year-old bricklayer’s assistant, this was another means of reducing a budget deficit. Similarly, for the 38-year-old textile printer with three children, such a strategy made it possible to balance the family budget. It could also be a way of covering the cost of employment training for male children – a long-term strategy for ensuring the family’s ability to maintain its members. This was the case for the 39- and 40-year-old widows who headed households 11 and 12.

56When we consider the variety of different means of ameliorating a family’s economic situation examined here, it is clear that biological factors can be regarded only as a starting point in determining a family’s well-being. By « biological factors » we mean a set of conditions that only in extreme circumstances have a decisive economic impact. The biological cycle of families is subject to the influence of social factors which play a role at different stages in the family’s development, between the moment when the couple is formed and the time when children become independent. A more detailed analysis would have allowed us to highlight the indications of this social conditioning to be observed in the households examined: the different conditions under which couples were formed (age, difference in age, and the geographical and socio-professional background of the partners), the differences in reproductive history (age of first maternity, number of children and interval between them), and the different cultural attitudes and beliefs regarding domestic life and the raising and training of children.

57Clearly the middle stage of the cycle appears to have been one of the most difficult, particularly when there were more than two dependent children. Nevertheless, the cases examined show that larger-than-average family households were probably relatively well-off by working-class standards. Families with more than two children, generally uncommon in Barcelona, tended to be those of workers who were most skilled and best paid. The common reproductive pattern chosen involved spreading births over a woman’s period of fertility. This reduced the economic risk for households by shortening the period during which the couple had to maintain three dependent children18. For these families, the stage at which one of their children entered the labour market led to an easing of financial pressures. The additional economic resources made available would be greatest if the son or daughter took employment in industry. Apprenticeship, the preferred option among skilled tradespeople, would prolong the period of co-residence with parents and delay the formation of an independent household.

58The loss of a husband was always a demographic and economic setback, but, despite being associated with a reduction in income, this circumstance did not determine the economic situation of a family in an absolute manner: the impact of the loss depended on the number, age and sex of the dependent children.

59It is true that the effect of migration explains many of the characteristics of households in Barcelona: the predominance of young families consisting of just a couple, or of parents with two children at most; the relatively high proportion of unmarried workers of both sexes living alone or with relatives, sharing with other workers, or provided with lodging as servants or apprentices. However, it is also true that the opportunities offered by the urban environment encouraged the organisation of society to suit the needs of production. In this context, households focused on co-residence strategies that were aimed at accumulating incomes. The downside of this option was that it was compatible with maintaining men’s and women’s wages at a level corresponding to individual subsistence needs. This level was sufficient or even attractive for men and women without direct family responsibilities who came to the labour market in Barcelona from poorer areas, but it was not enough to ensure the replacement of families.

Table 1. Household types

Table 1. Household types

Table 3. Census distribution according to daily wages

Table 3. Census distribution according to daily wages

Prepared by the authors based on data in I. Cerdá, 1867.

Table 4. Daily and annual expenses (reals/day)

Table 4. Daily and annual expenses (reals/day)

Table 5. Expenses for men and women according to food consumption coefficients by age (reals/day)

Table 5. Expenses for men and women according to food consumption coefficients by age (reals/day)

Application of the consumption coefficients adopted by E. A. Wrigley & R. S. Schofield, 1981, to the food expense for an adult man (766 real/day, Table 2) and calculation of total expenses by adding personal and accommodation expenses to this amount (Table 2).

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Document annexe

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1Sewell, W. H., 1985.
2Figuerola, L., 1849. Cerdà, I., 1867, vol. ii. There is an analysis on the demographical thesis of these author, in Pilar, L. G., 1995.
3In I. Cerdà, the calculation of expenses, like the calculation of income, is complicated by the assumption that there are patterns of consumption based on marital status, sex and age.
4Laslett, P. & Wall, R., 1972. Lasslett’s thesis concerning the universality of nuclear family in pre-industrial societies was already contested by L. Berkner, 1975. This author related the variations in the composition of households to hereditary systems and demographic patterns; see L.  Berkner & Mendels, F. F., 1972. The most recent methodological and theoretical analysis about household composition according to demographical and economical variables is listed in E. Hammel & al., 1991.
5This thesis is based on arguments made by the social reformers of the nineteenth century. The most widely known variants are those of Rowntree (1901) and Chayanov (1920). I. Cerdà (1864) based his analysis of the working-class family economy on the assumption that there was a life cycle of income and consumption that was distinct for each sex. S. Woolf’s research, (Woolf, S., 1986), identified the types of household and the individual situations that were most susceptible, without adopting an overly deterministic view of the relationship between life stages and the risk of poverty, or between such a risk and a situation of effective poverty.
6A. Fauve-Chamoux, 1993, intending to contrast Rowentree’ s model in the urban preindustrial population of Rheims during the eighteenth century, pointed out that Rowntree’s conception of an oscillation of poor families above and below a poverty line, seems to concern more a newly industrialized population than a preindustrial one « The number of children — young or old — living at home did not seem to have any negative influence on the standard of living. We did not find any correlation between the recurrent tax payments and the life course in this respect. There was no indication that changes in the number of children produced fluctuation above or under a poverty line ». This is because, « Most families were so poor that they remained at the margin of primary poverty all the time and so surviving children worked, either at home or as apprentices in a trade (…) and families were of small size and smaller in cities than in the countryside ». pp. 152‑153. David Levine maintains a similar hypothesis for the first industrialization phase, when the labour of wife and children was a source of income for family.
7J. Humphries, 1995, is a reference point for a critical evaluation of this issue. This author’s data concerning the families of different working-class groups support the complementarity of the salary of women although she underlines the significant variations between sectors. She also suggests the decrease in women’s contribution to the domestic economy from the middle of the nineteenth century onwards. This decrease was not to be explained only by the subsequent low of participation of women in the labour market but also by the decline in their wages (pp. 105‑108).
8For differences in economic and social contexts in Europe: Aldous, J. & Reuben, H., 1969; Litchfield, R., 1978; Tilly, L. 1979; Goldin, C., 1981; Roberts, E., 1982; Haines, R. M., 1979; Saito, O., 1981. For the final decades of the nineteenth century in America these strategies has been also underlined by R. W. Smuts, 1959, M. K. Oppenheim, M. A. Vinovskis & T. Hareven, 1978. E. J. Rotella, 1980, and most recently in a long term trend between the nineteenth and the second half of the twentieth century by R. V. Robinson, 1995. In Spain, see D. S. Reher & E. Camps, 1991, who have compared the data for an agro-city – Cuenca – and a textile city – Sabadell – not far from Barcelona.
9It has been suggested that circumstances particularly favourable to the employment of women could lead to the modification of these strategies. See J. Schellekens, 1993; G. Gullickson, 1986; E. Accampo, 1989; A. Cento Bull, 1991. In xxth century Spain this has also been pointed out by C. Borderías, 1993a, L. Galvez, 2000, L. Muñoz Abeledo, 2002 .
10O. Saito in his study about family strategies in England during the Industrial Revolution has pointed out: « that the importance of variation in the labour force participation of women and children are noticeably different between very poor families and relatively better-off ones. The rate for the former ones was related to neither economic – the income of the head of the family and the salary expectation for women - nor demographic – the size of the family and the number of children under five – factors instead of what happens for the last ones ». Saito, O, 1981, p. 647. This difference has also been underlined by J. Humphries, 1995, and for Ghent by P. Van Den Eeckhout,1993.
11J. Humphries, 1995, corroborates these strategies, focusing on differences according to labour sector, wage and market, but also on cultural, ideological and institutional factors (p. 112).
12M. Anderson, 1971, pp. 72‑74. O. Saito, in line with Anderson’s thesis, also states that for the England of 1871 as for 1795 « the adverse effect of male wages was far greater than the positive effect of female wages on women’ s labour force participation », though he then recognises that the difference between these two factors cannot be considered very significant: « it is admitted, the differences between the two effects, on which the above conclusion is based, were not large », Saito, O., 1981, p. 647. J. Humphries, 1995, questions the relationship between women’s work and the wages of men: « the variation of women’s and children’s contribution over time and across occupations is not consistently related to family income level. (...) this suggests demand-side constraints: an interpretation reinforced by the evidence that as total family real incomes in this sector struggle upwards after 1835, wives and children contributed proportionally more, not less. On the other hand for miners’ families the evidence is consistent with a situation where increasing family incomes driven by higher male earnings secured the relaxation of the effort of wives and children (…) » p. 105. She also points to the importance of demand for women’s labour, as well as ideological and cultural factors (Humphries, J., 1995, pp. 112‑113). It appears, in any case, that the inverse relationship between women’s participation in the labour force and the wage of the head of family in the first half of the nineteenth century is observed only in those families that were above the primary poverty line. This relationship was stronger in the second half of the nineteenth century when the wages of male workers began to rise sharply.
13Woolf, S., 1986, pp. 13-21, and Fontaine, L. & Schlumbohm, J., 2000.
14Borderías, C. & López Guallar, P., 2001; López Guallar, P., in process of publication. The source also describes the households of professionals, those employed by the administration or by property owners, and those living of investment income. These groups are distinguished from the groups involved in production – artisans or wage-earning workers – not only by their backgrounds and levels of income, but also by their lifestyles.
15C. Borderías, 1993a, 1993b confirms the generality of these patterns for the twentieth century.
16Wrigley, E. A. & Schofield, R. S., 1981.
17Pérez Fuentes, P., 1993. In a social context in which employment is strictly reserved to men, women take responsibility for providing male workers, married or single, with domestic services. Consequently, accommodation is the general form of income transfer between employed men and married men.
18Records of vital statistics for Barcelona indicate a ratio of birth to marriages of 3:1 in the mid-nineteenth century, compared to 5:1 for the end of the eighteenth century. L. Figuerola, 1849, who based his conclusions on data from 1787 and from the 1840s, saw this as a clear demonstration of a decrease in fertility. This contrasts with an increase in the marriage rate that we observed by reconstructing vital statistics for the period 1755-1864. Reconstruction of Catalan vital statistics for the eighteenth century and Ansley J. Coale’s methodologically more refined studies on birth rates in marriage for the nineteenth century indicate that the birth rate began to rise in Barcelona in the eighteenth century before the rest of Catalonia, and that the nineteenth-century decline in birth rate also began first in the city.
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Table des illustrations

Titre Table 1. Household types
Fichier image/png, 40k
Titre Table 2. Wages
Fichier image/png, 88k
Titre Table 3. Census distribution according to daily wages
Légende Prepared by the authors based on data in I. Cerdá, 1867.
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Titre Table 4. Daily and annual expenses (reals/day)
Fichier image/png, 83k
Titre Table 5. Expenses for men and women according to food consumption coefficients by age (reals/day)
Légende Application of the consumption coefficients adopted by E. A. Wrigley & R. S. Schofield, 1981, to the food expense for an adult man (766 real/day, Table 2) and calculation of total expenses by adding personal and accommodation expenses to this amount (Table 2).
Fichier image/png, 45k
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Cristina Borderías et Pilar Lopez, « A Gendered View of Family Budgets in Mid-nineteenth Century Barcelona », Histoire & mesure, XVIII - 1/2 | 2003, 113-146.

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Cristina Borderías et Pilar Lopez, « A Gendered View of Family Budgets in Mid-nineteenth Century Barcelona », Histoire & mesure [En ligne], XVIII - 1/2 | 2003, mis en ligne le 15 août 2006, consulté le 24 janvier 2021. URL : ; DOI :

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Cristina Borderías

Departamento de Historia Contemporánea, Universidad de Barcelona

Pilar Lopez

Treballs, Institucions i Gènere, Universidad de Barcelona

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