Sex and the city. Female domestic servants and the diffusion of fertility decline in Flanders, 1830-1930

Begin - Einde 
2006 - 2011 (afgewerkt)



In this project, we examined whether urban domestic service functioned as a diffusion channel for fertility decline in Flanders, 1830-1930. Servants’ employers usually belonged to the upper and middle classes, which were pioneers in the adoption of birth control within marriage. Contrastingly, servants typically originated from rural working class households, among which fertility declined very late. By mechanisms of social learning servants were potentially influenced by their masters’ behavior. Qualitative sources indicated that servants indeed gained contraceptive information via their position as cultural intermediaries. Descriptive quantitative analysis of two populations of rural born women furthermore suggested that former urban servants put this information into practice in their later life: their marital fertility was consistently lower than that of other women. Yet, multivariate statistical analysis revealed that the place of residence at the time of childbearing was a more decisive factor than servant experience. Only women who settled in the city after marriage had significantly lower fertility than others, regardless of their servant experience. Formers urban servants who returned to the countryside after the end of their career, had similar fertility behavior than women who had never been in service.