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By-Employments in Early Modern England and Their Significance for Estimating Historical Male Occupational Structures

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Based on the evidence from probate inventories, by-employments have generally been presumed ubiquitous amongst early modern Englishmen. This would appear to present a significant problem for estimates of the contemporary male occupational structure, since the sources on which these estimates are based describe men almost always by their principal employment only. This paper argues that this problem is vanishingly small, for three reasons. Firstly, the probate inventory evidence is shown to exaggerate the incidence of by-employments by a factor of two, as a consequence of its inherent wealth bias. Secondly, it is demonstrated that even after wealth-bias correction, the probate record greatly overstates by-employment incidence as most of the traces of subsidiary activities in the inventories actually point to the employments of other members of the household, not to by-employments of the inventoried male household head. Thirdly, even if one ignored this and assumed that they did, in fact, point to his by-employments, they are shown to have been relatively small in economic importance compared to the principal employment, and to necessitate only a very minor adjustment of the principal-employment-only male occupational structure.



By-employments, Probate inventories, Wealth bias, Occupational structure

Is Part Of


Cambridge Working Papers in Economic and Social History
ESRC (1085661)