CLIO TALKS BACK: Women and Credit Worldwide

Did you know that women worldwide and throughout history have been continually involved in financial transactions, notably in credit, investment, and capital formation ?

Long before microcredit projects began to foster female loan cooperatives in societies such as India, with the Grameen Bank and SEWA, women were involved in small-scale financial operations.

Some of Clio’s male historian colleagues have contributed greatly to illuminating aspects of women’s economic involvement in earlier times.

A survey which sheds a great deal of light on the subject is "Women and Credit in Pre-Industrial and Developing Societies" by William Chester Jordan of Princeton University.

According to recent historical findings on women’s economic involvement in Europe, there is “something distinctive about women’s roles in credit.” [p. 1] . . . “both men and women were pawnbrokers and moneylenders.” [p. 2]

According to Jordan, the sexual division of labor in earlier times was remarkably less pronounced in this area of finance than in many other arenas of women’s labor, such as the manufacture of cloth, baking, or poultry-raising.

This all changed with industrialization and commercialization, and western prescriptions for a strict sexual division of labor.

Clio suggests that you have a look at this study, which addresses not only Europe during the middle ages and early modern period, but also sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean in the colonial and post-colonial period. Eye-opening!


William Chester Jordan, Women and Credit in Pre-Industrial and Developing Societies. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993.

David Herlihy, Opera Muliebria: Women and Work in Medieval Europe. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1990.