Historisk Tidskrift. Utgiven av Svenska historiska föreningen
  Hem Aktuellt  Tidigare nummer Bli Medlem  Annonsera Om Historisk Tidskrift  För skribenter  Föreningen In English

Historisk tidskrift 133:1 • 2013

Innehåll (Contents) 2013:1

Uppsatser (Articles)


”När det så stor varder att det något kan göra” Om barns och ungdomars arbete i det tidigmoderna Sverige

Jan Mispelaere

Fulltext (pdf)


Indispensable help: Child and teenage labour in early modern Sweden

In the older literature, the work performed by children and teenagers in early modern Sweden is often associated with a specific type of simple tasks carried out within the household, particularly undervalued domestic work such as running errands and taking care of livestock. Newer evidence suggests that what seems to be a range of less important tasks were not only of substantial importance to the economy of the household, but were also of great importance to the economy as a whole.

This article focuses primarily on young people’s work: what they did and at what age. The aim is also to study the division of labour between the sexes or the absence of such a division among young people.

Previous research on early modern labour has sometimes emphasized that men’s and women’s work was undertaken in two different spheres in accordance with a widespread gendered division of labour. New research has underlined that factors such as status, poverty and work force shortages meant that the relatively strict boundaries between male and female spheres were abandoned. An important element that also affected the division of labour was age. According to Orvar Löfgren, separation into a male and female sphere did not exist for children to the same extent as it did for adults.

The study shows that the labour of children and young teenagers of both sexes was regularly carried out at great distances from their homes and over extensive areas. It appears that girls were not more limited by the boundaries of the domestic sphere than boys were. A distinct gendered division of labour therefore did not exist for children and young teenagers. Age not only defined what type of work early modern people were expected to do, in some cases age eliminated other factors which were determinative for what was considered to be typically female and male behaviour.

Being neither a permanent or stable workforce, the effect of child and teenage work at home as well as on the local labour market was obvious.

The use of a young labour force worked like a domino effect. By working, children saved their parents, older siblings, relatives, neighbours and employers much time. The domino effect of their efforts was enormous. Parents with small children could do certain things that had been impossible without this help, older youths could instead help adults with heavier work and corvée, and employers could do their own business, maintain social contacts, visit marketplaces and perform work that could only be managed by one or more adults.


Sweden, early modern period, children’s history, child labour, teenagers, gender