|Children and widows’ wealth|
|This paper deals with the economic situation of the widows of workers and craftsmen in Swedish towns. Our purpose is to compare the impact of children on widows’ wealth in the early 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century.
In the 19th century widows constituted a large part of the urban population. Their economic situation was troublesome as many had under-aged children, and a male breadwinner system dominated. As a consequence widows were overrepresented among the poor. A study concerning poor widows in Finland at the turn of the 20th century shows that they employed several economic strategies for their survival. One was to continue working. Another was keeping lodgers. A third and widespread strategy was to rely on their children’s incomes. In addition they used poor-relief as a supplement.
Research from late 19th century Europe and USA shows working class families as highly dependent on their children’s incomes. As a result, in families with children, incomes peaked later in life than among childless families. Consequently parents could sustain wealth longer. This stresses the importance of comparing childless widows and widows with children. Many income-earning children led to a higher living standard for the family and larger savings. Children over 10, and especially boys, were most important. However, it seems as if poor widows in Finland relied more on their daughters than on their sons.
In this paper we intend to compare children’s impact on widows’ wealth in Sweden in the early 19th century, when workers’ incomes still were low, with their impact on wealth at the turn of the 20th century. At this time incomes had started to grow as a consequence of industrialization, and children’s income earning possibilities had been reduced by regulations regarding compulsory education and children’s labour.
The analysis is based on probate records and church records. Probate records give data regarding wealth at the time of death for those who had assets. This means that our study primarily concerns those widows who could support themselves without poor-relief. We compare widows with and without children in four industrial towns. As wealth varies during the life cycle, we study wealth in relation to age and also to children’s age and sex. Church records provide supplementary information about the probated widow and her children: if she took in lodgers, was on poor-relief etcetera. We use quantitative research method.
Some important research questions are: How did the existence of children of different ages and sex affect widows’ wealth? Were the effects the same at the turn of the 20th century as in the early 19th century? Were widows of certain ages, and especially those with minor children, overrepresented among poor-relief recipients? Was the impact of children on widows’ wealth different for craftsmen and workers? Were lodgers especially common in the household of widows?