Gender, life cycle, and family ‘strategies’ among the poor: the Barcelona workhouse, 1762–1805

Montserrat Carbonell‐Esteller, Julie Marfany
Published Online:
05 Mar 2017
Volume/Issue No:
Volume 70 Issue 3

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Poor relief has received less attention from historians of southern Europe compared with northern Europe. This article seeks to challenge the frequent assumption that the strength of family ties in southern Europe mitigated the need for welfare provision. It provides new data for men and boys entering the Barcelona workhouse in the period 1780–1803, and compares these with data from an earlier study of women and girls who entered the same institution over the period 1762–1805. We establish the characteristics of those who sought relief in terms of age, place of origin, marital status, and occupation. We use the information on reasons for entry and exit to ascertain family circumstances. We show that there were significant differences between males and females in terms of why they entered and left, and length of stay, particularly among the elderly. The bulk of the population of the workhouse, however, was comprised of children and adolescents. For this group, entry into the workhouse represented not just a temporary solution to life cycle poverty and periodic unemployment, but also a longer‐term strategy aimed at smoothing entry into the labour market.

© Economic History Society 2017

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