Double Disadvantage or Golden Age? Immigration, Gender and Economic Opportunity in Later Medieval England

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This article focuses on the intersection between migration, gender and economic opportunity in later medieval England. Drawing on the returns of the alien subsidy, a direct tax imposed on the country’s alien residents during the second half of the fifteenth century, it argues that immigrant women encountered a medieval equivalent of the so-called ‘double disadvantage’, having fewer opportunities to work in independent occupations than immigrant men and English women. Female aliens were more likely than their male fellow-immigrants and their native counterparts to be employed in service, and significant numbers of alien women can be linked to the low-status prostitution sector. Providing little evidence of economic betterment, the alien subsidies thus suggest that the so-called ‘golden age’ thesis, which states that economic opportunities for women improved in post-Black Death England, did not apply to the country’s immigrant women. The article also wonders, however, whether the economic expectations of female aliens were the same as those of alien men and English women. In an unusually early example of transnational life-cycle service, female immigrant servants may never have had the intention of settling permanently and building up a successful life in England, but may have come to work in the country for only a limited period of time, return home and capitalise on their foreign experience.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)545-564
Number of pages20
JournalGender & History
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 4 Feb 2020


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