Levitan’s ‘Redundancy, the ‘Surplus Woman’Problem, and the British Census, 1851–1861’

Levitan provides a highly accessible account of the 1851 Census and its relationship to the gendered politics of Malthusian ‘redundancy’. Highlighting one aspect of her larger work on the census, it argues for the role enumeration played in ongoing social conflicts, particularly within the middle classes where female redundancy was most severely felt, and makes explicit links to the debates surrounding emigration, women’s employment rights, and the separate spheres ideology. Statistical data is presented alongside contemporary arguments (that themselves reference this data) in order to explain the use and misuse of this data to promote existing causes. The final section, on imperial motherhood, is somewhat less developed than the others, but mostly owing to its relative brevity.

Would be useful to those studying:

  • Victorian Feminism
  • British Census and Population Estimates
  • Gender Roles
  • British Emigration, particularly Female Emigration
  • Britain’s Civilising Mission
  • Malthusianism
  •  Separate Spheres

Levitan, K. “Redundancy, the ‘Surplus Woman’Problem, and the British Census, 1851–1861.” Women’s History Review 17, no. 3 (2008): 359–376.

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