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English women’s reported labour force participation rate in the 1851 census was 43%. This rate has been projected back in time on grounds of domestic responsibilities, despite evidence of full employment in London c.1700. However, the capital may have been exceptional. In this paper I assess surviving local population listings (census-type documents at a parish level) from provincial England to count employment rates. First, I have to disentangle the words like ‘spinster’ which we usually interpret as marital status, but which were still used as late as the early 19th century to indicate how a woman earned her living. I find that women’s labour force participation rate in the long 18th century was in the range of 60-85%, despite domestic responsibilities.

Amy Erickson is Professor of Feminist History at the University of Cambridge.

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