Dutch Live-in Farm Servants in the Long Nineteenth Century: The Decline of the Life-Cycle Service System for the Rural Lower Class

Paping, R., Nov-2017, Servants in Rural Europe: 1400-1900. Whittle, J. (ed.). Woodbridge & Rochester: Boydell & Brewer, p. 203-226 24 p. (People, Markets, Goods: Economies and Societies in History; vol. 11).

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademic

In the first decades of the nineteenth century, the lifecycle service system was still intact in rural Groningen. Not only children from labouring families, but also of quite a few other families, were working as live-in farm servants between their early teens and marriage. However, over the course of the nineteenth century fewer children of farmers and non-agricultural households became live-in farm servants. In the same period, more slightly older children stepped out of the lifecycle servant system well before marriage. Consequently, the share of young teenagers among the live-in workforce was increasing, and their average age was falling. Many older unmarried children of labourers started to work as non-resident labourers, and increasing numbers never even entered service.
Servanthood was suddenly no longer an ordinary stage in the lifecycle of nearly all children of labouring and other lower class rural families. The system deteriorated because increasingly these relatively poor families were no longer inclined to send all their adolescent children to other’s houses for work from 1860 onward. As a reaction to this fall in supply of servants, servants’ wages at first rose, as farmers still wanted their labour. Presumably, this costly labour strategy of rejecting service – made possible by rising real wages – was motivated by a rising preference for family life and for more freedom for the children. However, it was not without costs as it resulted in a less secure livelihood and a worse income than live-in service. In the long run, however, children who remained at home had better chances than those who entered service, and in this way stepping out of the lifecycle servant system can be seen as an investment in human capital.
The high wages of the live-in servants at first stimulated smaller farmers to stop hiring live-in personnel, and by 1910 almost only large farmers employed live-in personnel. However, around World War One they too dismissed their male farm servants and most of their female servants. This was presumably connected to a greater desire for privacy by the large farmers. So the first and heaviest blow to the system was given by the labouring families, however, the system was nearly completely swept away a few decades later by decisions of the farming families. After World War One live-in farm servants became rare in the Groningen agriculture, while the few female servants still living on farms were mainly occupied with domestic work and far less involved in agriculture
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationServants in Rural Europe
Subtitle of host publication1400-1900
EditorsJane Whittle
Place of PublicationWoodbridge & Rochester
PublisherBoydell & Brewer
Number of pages24
ISBN (Print)978-1-78327-239-6
Publication statusPublished - Nov-2017

Publication series

NamePeople, Markets, Goods: Economies and Societies in History
PublisherBoydell & Brewer / Economic History Society
ISSN (Print)2051-7467

ID: 50731671