Rural Economies

Jane Whittle

in The Oxford Handbook of Women and Gender in Medieval Europe

Published in print August 2013 | ISBN: 9780199582174
Published online January 2013 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in History

Rural Economies

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  • History
  • Gender and Sexuality
  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)



The great majority of the population of medieval Europe lived and worked in the countryside. This article examines gender differences in access to land (the key resource), in patterns of work or "the gender division of labor," and in wage earning and wage payments. Work in agriculture, textile production, and food processing is discussed, as well as the nature of domestic work or housework. Although evidence of everyday life is slight or nonexistent in many periods and regions, it is possible to discern important changes across the medieval period in women's access to land and the gendered organization of work. Commercialization, demographic trends, and technological change all had an impact. Nonetheless, continuities in the type of work women did are also striking, particularly their exclusion from high-status and profitable activities, and their consistently low wages.

Keywords: work; land; agriculture; textiles; domestic work; wages; gender division of labor; servants; everyday life

Article.  8100 words. 

Subjects: History ; Gender and Sexuality ; Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)

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