Wenjun Yu and Elise van Nederveen Meerkerk, “Textile Wages, Women’s Earnings Power, and Household Living Standards in the Yangtze Delta, 1756 – c.1930”, 2024.

This paper explores the real incomes of textile women and their economic contributions to household subsistence in the Yangtze Delta from 1756 to 1930. It finds that the daily real income by traditional hand spinning and weaving experienced a steady decline in the whole investigating period. However, when hand weavers used machine-made yarn, textile productivity improved and the daily return had an obvious increase. While this new method of hand weaving induced relatively high real incomes between the 1880s and early 1910s, in the longer term hand weavers' earnings generally declined. Nevertheless, women's annual remuneration still averaged around 65% of the income needed for a household's subsistence. When hand weaving stagnated since the 1920s, handicraft textile women contributed less than 20% of household subsistence expense, while the wages earnings of women who worked in urban mills hovered between 40% and 60% of a household subsistence budget. The earning power of Yangtze textile women was, on the one hand, depended on commercialization, global trade and textile industrialization in different historical eras, on the other hand, conditioned by their life circles and household labor allocation. No matter what kind of textile production women did, their economic contribution to the household throughout the period should not be underestimated.

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