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Bread WinnerAn Intimate History of the Victorian Economy$
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Emma Griffin

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780300230062

Published to Yale Scholarship Online: September 2020

DOI: 10.12987/yale/9780300230062.001.0001

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‘Father disappeared and left mother to brave the storm’

‘Father disappeared and left mother to brave the storm’

Family Breakdown1

(p.135) 5 ‘Father disappeared and left mother to brave the storm’
Bread Winner

Emma Griffin

Yale University Press

This chapter examines when fathers — the economic foundation of any family — were absent. It reveals the distinctive features of urban and industrial areas: a higher death rate, a much higher desertion rate, and a significantly higher risk of being raised in a fatherless household. It is also clear that there was something within the shift from rural to urban areas that destabilised the traditional nuclear family and triggered a breakdown in the social mechanisms that had traditionally upheld the nuclear family of married parents and their children. In the new world of the city, when men found the pressures of marriage and parenthood more than they could bear, they were able to walk away. And the consequences of these changes for families and living standards were profound. In the gender-divided world of nineteenth-century Britain, fathers (and their wages) were vital for family well-being. Male earnings formed the bedrock of family life. Without a male wage earner, mothers had to step in and attempt to earn some income themselves.

Keywords:   fathers, fatherhood, male wages, nuclear families, parenthood, marriage, family breakdowns, breadwinning

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