There is still uncertainty in economic history about whether and to what extent wages were subject to cultural patterns. For England, evidence suggests that real wages and wages gaps seem to have been determined mostly by market forces, but also customary employment patterns (Humphries & Weisdorf 2015; Burnette 2009, 2004; ... (Show more)
There is still uncertainty in economic history about whether and to what extent wages were subject to cultural patterns. For England, evidence suggests that real wages and wages gaps seem to have been determined mostly by market forces, but also customary employment patterns (Humphries & Weisdorf 2015; Burnette 2009, 2004; Horrell & Humphries 1995). In Germany, female labour participation was apparently heavily regulated, resulting in large artificial wage gaps (Ogilvie 2003). However, this pessimistic view stems largely from one case study, and little comparable data is available from other places in Germany, as there is generally only little detailed information on historical wages and female labour force participation outside of England.
Entangling cultural and market effects is also complicated by different methodological problems: First, it is difficult to find comparable occupations. While restrictions to education and training – one of the known main problems in Germany – are by themselves discriminatory, they weren’t necessarily relevant to large parts of the labour. Apart from such restrictions, we know little about wage gaps in Germany, especially for the rural area. Second, data often stems from long term contracts, where effects of gender roles and seniority are hard to distinguish from actual work requirements.
To expand on this debate and to offer a fresh approach, we present a unique collection of material on agricultural labour from different German farms from the 17th to 19th century, with wages on a daily and hourly basis. We use wages from agricultural work because in pre-modern Germany about 65 percent of the population worked in agriculture (Pfister 2022). The jobs are also easily comparable, as they hardly changed over the observation period, and labour assignments are well described in contemporary sources. Finally, levels of education or training were rather irrelevant to agricultural work (Mokyr 2002).
Thus, it is possible to test for the existence of age and gender-related discrimination in several ways: First, by comparing nominal wages of different individuals by days and hours, second by comparing renumeration to task requirements, and third by reconstructing gender and age-related employment patterns, that could explain wage differences on the aggregate level. Our data thus gives us a sharp picture distinguishing market-related effects from social effects. (Show less)