Monday, 24 December 2007

Gender balance in UK to Canada immigration

Singled Out: How Two Million Women Survived Without Men After the First World War by Virginia Nicholson (ISBN 9780670915644) is the newest book in my personal library. It describes the social history of the British women born between 1885 and 1905 who remained unmarried owing to their intended or potential husbands having been killed in WW1.

Only a little way into the book it notes that these were referred to as surplus (or superfluous) women, following confirmation in the 1921 census that England and Wales had 19,803,022 women and 18,082,220 men.

An editorial in The Times of 25 August 1921 under the title Surplus Women opines that "the only possible escape lies in the emigration of women on a large scale."

I wondered if it happened, and thanks to a database of UK outbound ships passenger lists from findmypast.com there is a way to approach an answer.

To use that database you are required to enter a surname, so I developed statistics for the most frequent name, Smith. The graph shows, year by year, the ratio of women to men on the passenger lists of ships bound for Canada.

Until the outbreak of WW1 males dominate. Was there an outcry about women unable to marry in that period as their potential spouses had emigrated?

During WW1 the statistics are erratic as few people were travelling. After the war and through the 1920s there is closer to gender parity. Only in the 1930s, when the number of immigrants Canada was prepared to accept was greatly restricted, did the women travelling to Canada consistently outnumber the men.

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