Did Marriage Certificates Underreport Women’s Work? A Critical Assessment Using Union Data

Joris Kok, International Institute of Social History
Corinne Boter, Utrecht University

Systematic underregistration of women’s labor force participation has complicated the study of women’s work throughout history (Sarasúa 2012). This underregistration was common and widespread in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Marriage certificates, used regularly for studying women’s occupations in the Netherlands, are considered a reliable source (van Poppel et al. 2009; Kong et al. 2020). However, it is unknown to what extent this source undercounted women’s work. In this paper, we test the degree of misreporting by comparing occupations reported on marriage certificates to detailed and reliable union data. The diamond workers’ union ANDB (General Dutch Diamond Workers’ Union) allowed women as members and workers and enforced a 100 percent unionization rate across the industry. The ANDB membership administration, providing precise information on each person who entered the industry at one any between 1898 and 1958, includes nearly 4000 women (19 percent of all members). Nearly half of these women were reported with both their own (maiden) name and their husband’s name, suggestive of women continuing to work after marriage. Analyzing their careers in the years preceding and after their marriages, we find that a majority of these women were reported to have no occupation while having well-paying careers, even after marriage and motherhood.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 95. Women in Politics and the Labor Force