Antoinette Fauve-Chamoux

Revisiting Domestic Service as a Pre-marital Labour for Women and Men in Past Europe

Antoinette Fauve-Chamoux

Article information

Volume: XI Issue: 2, Pages: 57-92
Antoinette Fauve-Chamoux
University of the Western Cape, Statistics and Population Studies Department, EHESS, Centre de Recherches Historiques


This essay intends to revisit the path-breaking lines initiated in England, at the same time, by John Hajnal and Peter Laslett in 1965, particularly the question of “life-cycle service” as a pre-marital labour for women and men in past Europe. Many were the young ones who decided to live for some time as domestic servants under the authority of a master, far from home. Was this occupation a simple temporary job before marriage or a real work? To what extend was this labour “productive”? Was this occupation bringing some added value? Finally to what extend has this activity – that a serious proportion of servants, males and females, kept as they advanced in age – contributed to socio-economic and demographic changes, by producing care and well-being?
Given major progresses in historical demography and family models, the state of the art is presented in the first section. The second part stresses the characteristics of living-in domestic service occupation in historical gender perspective, and related theoretical scholarly debates of major consequences at the global level. The third section, based on case studies, shows examples of the proportion of servants in past Europe, with the contrasts between urban and rural populations and the variations observed historically, mostly due to the development of labour markets, since servants’ tasks as helpers were, by definition, fully flexible, in the frame of private families and households, in spite of many official regulations.

Keywords: European Marriage Pattern, Pre-marital Labour, Domestic Service, Care, Hajnal, Laslett, Life Course, Family, Gender, Well-Being, Migration


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