This chapter investigates the economic position of widows in the pre-industrial German society under analysis in this book. Patterns of widows' work are distilled from a database of work observations extracted from church-court records and are compared with those of other females (and males). These findings are then set alongside information on widows' livelihoods from an 18th-century economic census. Data on widowed female household-headship are used to identify the variables encouraging widows' economic independence. Qualitative findings are then used to explore competing hypotheses about the biological, technological, cultural and institutional determinants of widows' economic position. The chapter discusses the institutional factors constraining widows' economic activities, in particular the ‘social capital’ of craft guilds, merchant guilds, and local communities. The chapter concludes by exploring the implications for the wider developing economy of these constraints on widows' work.
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