The Journal of Economic History


Enclosures, Common Rights, and Women: The Proletarianization of Families in the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries

Jane Humphriesa1

a1 The author is a member of the Faculty of Economics and Politics, Cambridge University, Sidgwick Avenue, Cambridge CB3 9DD, United Kingdom.


This article argues against the mainstream view that eighteenth-century common rights were of little significance to working people. Markets in common rights and in their products provide an index of value, and when neither common rights nor derived products were bought and sold, values are imputed from the market prices of similar goods. Since women and children were the primary exploiters of common rights, their loss led to changes in women's economic position within the family and more generally to increased dependence of whole families on wages and wage earners.