Work, Leisure and Gender: A Time-use Study of England, 1700-1850

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: History


This thesis will use an innovative methodology to study time use in England 1700-1850. Data will be collected on individuals and the activities they were performing at specific moments. These data will be analysed to understand how activities and time were gendered. It will be the first detailed time use study for eighteenth- and nineteenth-century England. Its methodology will expand on other attempts to quantify time-use, work, and leisure. It will contribute with urgency to debates about the meaning and value of work and leisure, centring around gender inequality and the under-valued contributions of unpaid labour.

The core methodology of this project is to collect examples of time-use and their context from the records of church and criminal courts (quarter sessions and assizes). This will include urban and rural areas, with precise locations determined when Covid-19 restrictions allow the necessary archive work and travel. This thesis will follow Hailwood's and Whittle's (ca. 2016) methodology in recording each work activity alongside details of the person undertaking it, time and location, and the type of court case. This thesis will develop the methodology by applying the same recording principles to leisure activities. Recorded activities will be categorised according to whether they are work or leisure and further subcategorised, for example as agricultural or care work. This approach simulates a 'random spot' time use survey, which involves observing participants only at specific moments during the study period (UN 2005: 16).

This database will be used to address the research questions, for instance examining the gender balance in different activities, the time spent at work and leisure by men and women, and the proportion of time spent at home by women and men. The period will be divided into quarter-centuries to study change over time. This is vital to many of the historiographical issues of this period.

I am writing a Masters dissertation this year using a smaller sample of sources and refining the method, particularly regarding the most effective sources and the categorisation of leisure activities. The PhD will further develop this method and consider different geographical areas. In the first year I will write a literature review, develop a chapter-by-chapter thesis plan, begin to develop the database, and conduct interim analysis. In the second year I will complete data collection and the database. In the third year I will complete data analysis and write up the thesis. I will use Professor Whittle's contacts to collaborate with Maria Ågren's team using a similar method for the Gender and Work project at the University of Uppsala.

The potential impact of this research is twofold. Firstly, work and time-use are of enormous contemporary relevance. The definition of work is highly contested, increasingly so as communication technology erodes the divide between paid and unpaid work. Extra unpaid caring and housework created by the pandemic have been disproportionately undertaken by women, bringing gendered work and time-use to the forefront of public debate (e.g. see ONS 2020a and 2020b). Time-use research remains of vital importance (e.g. see Gershuny et al. 2020). By studying time-use historically, this thesis will show how it can be understood from challenging evidence and a variety of research perspectives. Secondly, this thesis will make an important contribution to the history of gender in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-centuries as outlined above. Furthermore, it will cross the boundaries between the AHRC and ESRC by combining quantitative and qualitative methods and by studying the cultural meanings and value of work and leisure alongside participation rates in work and the economy.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000630/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2588195 Studentship ES/P000630/1 01/10/2021 30/09/2024 Nicholas Carne Collins