Journal Article

Domestic servants and diffusion of fertility control in Flanders, 1830-1930

Matthys, C.
History of the Family, 18:4, 456–480 (2013)


This article uses a mixed method approach to analyse whether urban domestic service functioned as a diffusion channel in the fertility decline. The central hypothesis is that nineteenth century female, rural-born domestic servants were influenced by the reproductive habits of their middle and upper-class employers, who were vanguards in the adoption of family size limitation within marriage. This happened via a process of social learning, a mechanism of social influence in heterogeneous social networks. Female domestic servants are an excellent research population to study reproductive ideas and behaviour because they were large in number and had a particular social position in between the working and upper classes and in between rural and urban environments. This paper is unique in its use of qualitative information to analyse social fertility diffusion and in the incorporation of geographical mobility in the statistical part.
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