Hired Helpers at the Nest: The Association Between Life-cycle Servants and Net Fertility in North Orkney, 1851–1911

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Objectives: The presence of kin is often, but not always, associated with higher fertility in historical populations. However, the effect of other household members on fertility is less frequently studied. While not genetically related, life-cycle servants lived and worked alongside household members and may have provided assistance to reproducing families. Female servants in particular may have helped mothers with small children through direct help with childcare activities or by replacing the economic effort of mothers whose work was not compatible with childcare. This study examines the presence of servants in the households of married women of reproductive age to assess whether households with young children are more likely to also have servants. Materials and methods: This study uses individual-level census data from North Orkney, Scotland (1851–1911) to investigate the relationship between the presence of servants in households and a measure of recent net marital fertility, the number of women's own-children under age 5, using logistic regression models. Results: Households with young children were more likely to have a female, but not male, servant in the household after controlling for the effects of other possible helpers, including older children, mothers, and mothers-in-law. Discussion: These findings are consistent with prior research that indicates the importance of female labor to smallholder agricultural households and suggests that female servants may have provided support to reproducing families. Life-cycle servants should be considered one component of biocultural reproduction in historical Northwest Europe. The use of hired help is not restricted to contemporary or elite groups.

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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License



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