Tymofii Brik. Income and occupational inequalities in Premodern Ukraine: Cossacks, Peasants, and Unmarried girls.

PimonenkoThis article investigates to what extent human capital and social origins can explain income and occupational inequalities among servants in the city of Poltava in 1765-1769 years. The census data suggests that in case of women a combination of human capital (experience with age for young girls) was combined with social circumstances (married and widows had higher salaries which had only an option to go down). In case of men Cossacks and peasants were not discriminated in terms of incomes. However, peasants were less likely to be employed by high-status social groups such as professionals. Moreover, they were less likely to be employed by other Cossacks (low-ranked).

     Acknowledgements: I would like to express my gratitude to Dr. Yurii Voloshyn who kindly offered me to read his yet unpublished paper about income inequalities in the city of Poltava based on the census and parish data. I am also very grateful to Olena Bastina, Ivan Sivakov, and Olena Lupalo for their help in coding the data

Intensive occupational mobility is usually seen as a product of socio-economic modernization (Miles & Vincent, 1993). Premodern and early modern societies are considered to have rigid social structures where individuals are tied to their social origins. Socio-economic modernization allegedly increased social fluidity due to the changes in: (1) economic production when individuals had to fill new industrial and bureaucratic occupations (Inkeles, 1960; Kerr et. al, 1960); (2) common culture of job selection that was based on achievement criteria and standardization of education and career path (Blau & Duncan, 1967; Mitch & & van Leeuwen, 2004; Schulz, 2013); (3) geographical mobility and urbanization that made it, on the one hand, more likely to escape a control of parents or kin and, on the other hand, less likely to signal a social status in the new environment (Knigge et. al, 2014). However, there are empirical studies showing that social mobility before modernization was in some cases at the same level as after modernization (Kaeble, 1985). Studies of occupational mobility in premodern societies are scarce, especially in case of non-Western societies. This article is a first and modest endeavor to investigate social inequalities and occupational mobility in premodern Ukraine by looking simultaneously in differences between social groups in terms of their occupational status, income distribution, and gender.

This study contributes to the literature in a twofold way. First, seminal investigations of socio-economic situation in Cossack Hetmanat were written at the beginning of the 20th century (Shamray, 1925; Mundzook, 1926). Many years have passed before Ukrainian historians reinforced these studies. For example, Voloshyn (2014) was first to investigate the patterns of household formation of Ukrainian Cossacks employing up-to-date theoretical concepts. Many other aspects, however, have never triggered a scholarly attention since the early 20th century. The present research attempts to fill this gap. Second, Ukrainian historians who came across a topic of social inequalities provide simple descriptive statistics of land ownership (Shamray, 1925) or income distribution (Voloshyn, 2013). The actual mechanisms that may be at work in making some groups of people better off while pushing other groups into poverty were ignored. This article is first to employ the theories of human capital and social origins to explain social inequalities in premodern Ukraine.


  1. Historical contexts

Ukrainian territories in the 17th century experienced serious changes in social structure. The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth stimulated colonization of the new territories by offering benefits and mitigations to peasants and low-ranked elites. This resulted in the increase in numbers of Cossacks who recruited runaways (Brehunenko, 2014). Later Cossack began to demand more social privileges that resulted in a series of uprisings and, as Brehunenko (2014) defined it, the war of national liberation (p. 67). These events affected various social groups. Peasants and petty bourgeoisie frequently joined Cossacks who in the peaceful times carried their own farming activities and trade. In the 18th century Ukrainian Cossacks subordinated to Russian Empire. Integration to this state witnessed a significant decrease in freedoms for peasants over the course of time. Peasants gradually lost their opportunities to change social status and join Cossacks, to have their land, move to another proprietor, and, finally, their freedom (peasants eventually became serfs). When Catherine II abolished Cossack authority bodies, the social status of Cossacks was undermined pushing them into new niches. All these changes motivate an investigation of actual economic capacities of different social groups in premodern Ukraine.

This study focuses on the time when Ukrainian territories were on the way of integration to the bodies of Russian Empire, however, complete serfdom yet to be established. This period manifests last years of visible social fluidity among Ukrainian social groups where peasants and Cossacks had more opportunities to choose their social destination. The data under the scope of my analysis include census data from the city of Poltava in the late 18th century.

The data come from the census conducted by Russian Empire authorities between 1765 and 1769, also known as Rumyantsev Census. Early studies of this census (Shamray, 1925; Mundzook, 1926) demonstrate that dwellers of Poltava and neighboring municipalities were mostly Cossacks who were engaged in agricultural production. The city of Poltava was also dwelled with clergy, burghers, craft artisans, and merchants who “came from the Cossacks and also from the burghers” (Voloshyn, 2014, p. 1). Unfortunately, the census did not registered elites leaving high status clergy and Cossack higher ranks out. The information to be used in the present data is occupation of the household owner, income of his servants, social status of the servants. Male servants were divided in two categories: Cossacks and peasants. Information about social origin of women was not recorded. Nevertheless, women were listed by their marital status: unmarried, married, widows. This information will be utilized in the data analysis.


  1. Theoretical framework and hypotheses

The common wisdom about premodern traditional societies states that they had rigid social structures where ascription played greater role than achievements (Ganzeboom et. al, 1991; Van Leeuwen & Maas, 2010). Previous research of social inequalities in premodern Ukraine studied landownership (Shamraj, 1925) and income inequalities (Voloshyn, 2013), however, with some, I believe, limitations. Voloshyn (2013) points out that the average income between men and women was skewed towards male population. This finding confirms that in a premodern society women had lower socio-economic status compared to men. However, it does not necessary show that all men had the same income. To what extent all men where homogeneous? Where there any differences between servants who came from Cossack or peasant origins? And whether women of different marital status were different? These questions are not trivial, and they do not state a utilitarian goal to study all possible variables that are offered by census. These questions may shed light on the role of social origins and human capital in shaping income.

     Human capital theory. According to the human capital theory (Becker & Tomes, 1986) individuals who possess relevant skills have higher chances to be better-off on the labor market. The specialization thesis explains the difference in incomes between men and women since men were fit to specific manual occupations. Human capital can also explain differences within gender. In premodern society basic skills and experiences were obtained from parents and a keen, hence peasants were more likely to learn agricultural tasks while Cossacks could have learned craft related tasks.

Unfortunately, we cannot measure human capital directly. The information about skills or literacy is limited. We can just make assumptions that people of higher age may have accumulated more experience throughout their life. On the other hand human power was very important to carry household work in premodern era. Before industrialization and a shift to inanimate power, servants had to carry out a great deal of tasks by themselves. Therefore, physical capacities to perform work were important. In this instance too young or very old men did not possess human capital enough to perform their working tasks. The same logic can be applied to women. Too young or too old women did not have a capacity to perform their duties at their best making it less likely to get a normal wage. On the other hand, middle aged women had higher chances to receive better wage since they had enough of life experience and human power.


Hypothesis 1: Age of servants has a curvilinear association to their wages


Social origins theory. Individuals who came from more privileged background had better chances to invest in relative capital or/and use their connections in finding a better job (Schulz, 2013). The question remains unanswered for Ukraine whether the young men followed the same pattern of work in others’ households as in Western societies. In Western societies young men used this opportunity to gain capital and experience before the marriage and making their own household. Voloshyn argues that this was the case for Ukraine as well (Voloshyn, 2014). However, he did not consider the differences between Cossacks and peasants. Maybe Cossacks had better chances to use this opportunity as a transition period because of better incomes that allowed them to move farther. While peasants did not have the same good working conditions and had to work more.

The logic of social origin cannot be employed directly to women since data do not include this information. The assumption, however, may be done with respect to their social capital or motives. Married women and widows could use their husbands (or ex-husbands) as social ties to receive better job. Moreover, married and widows are more likely to have children, hence they may had more motives to get higher salary.


Hypothesis 2_1: Cossacks had higher salaries than peasants. Married women and widows had higher incomes than unmarried women.

Hypothesis 2_2: Cossacks, married women, and widows were more likely to be hired by people with higher socio-economic status when compared to peasants and unmarried respectively.


Data and Results

The data analyzed includes information about all servants who worked for wages or food in the city of Poltava during the period of census (1765-1769). I analyze gender, age, and wages of the servants.    Their occupational status is measured by the social status of the employer. The following categorical scale to classify employers into the following groups is used: Cossacks (lower ranks), Cossacks (higher ranks), Merchants, Manual workers, and Professionals.

Cossacks usually were engaged in agricultural activities such as cattle growing. I separate high-ranked Cossacks in a different group due to their superior position in military service and better capacities to provide their servants. Merchants traded in the neighboring fares, and were recruited from Cossacks and burgers. Manual workers are blacksmiths, barrel makers, tailors etc. Professionals are people who possess higher levels of human capital (education, literacy and managerial skills): low and high ranked governors, doctors, layers.

I compare such groups of servants in terms of their wages and occupational status as: Cossacks and Peasants; unmarried girls, married women, widows.

I also select only people older than 5 years. Income is measured in rubles per year.


Descriptive statistics of age of servants are presented in Table 1.

N Median age Mean age Min Max
Cossacks 159 20.00 24.05 11 65
Peasants 327 20.00 22.64 6 70
All men 486 20.00 23.34 6 70
Married 55 30.00 33.04 20 60
Unmarried 385 16.00 16.44 6 60
Widows 156 35.00 38.91 20 80
All women 596 18.00 23.85 6 80
All servants 1082 22.00 27.06 6.00 80.00


What can be seen from Table 1 is that Cossacks began their career as servants way later than peasants (11 and 6 years of the youngest servants respectively). The mean age of peasants serving in a household was almost the same when compared to Cossacks. It is possible to conclude that Cossacks had more years to live in their own household obtaining experience and human capital while peasants had to serve from the early childhood. In case of women an interpretation is more subtle. Their social status and their marital status were linked. Minimum age of married women of course doesn’t say much about labor market conditions; it is rather an indicator of an average age of marriage in Ukraine at that time. Nevertheless, some employment patterns can be seen. Girls began to serve in a very young age (like peasant boys – the minimum age of a servant was 6). Married women did not have to stay employed as long as widows, meaning that the latter often did not have any other means for existence.

Next, income figures will be discussed. It will be seen whether servants recruited from Cossacks or peasants did differ in their incomes. As well as whether older women had higher wages and whether this was conditioned on their social circumstances (marital status).

Table 2.1. Wages of men (all)

N Median wage Mean wage Min wage Max wage
Cossacks 149 3.50 3.47 11 12
Peasants 312 2.00 2.39 0 16

All men

461 2.50 2.74 0 16

Table 2.1. demonstrates a clear superiority of Cossacks to peasants in terms of their income. Despite the large variation (some of peasants could get 16 rubles per year), mean and median income of Cossacks was clearly higher. Because some people were working for food, it is likely to see many zeros of rubles in the data. That is why it is better to analyze medians instead of means that are skewed especially in the case of peasants.

Table 2.2. Wages of men (for rubles only)

N Median wage Mean wage Min wage Max wage
Cossacks 187 4.00 4.61 0.6 12
Peasants 112 4.00 3.98 0.6 16
All men 299 4.00 4.23 0.6 16


Table 2.2 includes the same figures for only those men who were working for money excluding those who were working for food. From this table it is possible to see that those servants who were working only for money did not differ in terms of median wage, and mean difference was very little.

Overall, peasant had less advantaged position since they began to serve earlier and more often worked for food. When it comes to the wages, however, they received almost the same salaries. Employers did not discriminate a certain social group in terms of wages.

Table 3.1. Wages of women

N Median wage Mean wage Min wage Max wage
Married 54 2.00 1.75 0 5
Unmarried 381 1.00 0.97 0 4
Widows 152 2.00 1.42 0 5
All women 583 1.00 1.16 0 5


Table 3.1 reveals the same figures for women. It is clear that women had lower incomes when compared to men. What is interesting, however, is the fact that marital status is important in predicting an average income of women. Unmarried girls got lower wages when compared to both: married and widows.

Table 3.3. includes only those women who were working for wages leaving those women who earned food away. The case of men showed that employers do not discriminate Cossacks and peasants in terms of wages. In case of women it is clear that unmarried girls got fewer rubles per year.

Table 3.2. Wages of women

N Median wage Mean wage Min wage Max wage
Married 43 2.00 2.20 0.66 5
Unmarried 259 1.40 1.44 0.18 4
Widows 104 2.00 2.06 0.50 5
All women 406 1.60 1.70 0.18 5


The question remains whether this difference can be explained with human capital or social origins (being married).

In order to tackle this issue I begin with simple correlations between age and wages. Age is an approximation for experience and a capacity to perform servants’ tasks. More years means more experience and, at some point of time, less muscle power to be a good servant.

Table 41.. Correlations between age and wages for men

All servants (food and money) Servants who work for money
Cossacks 0.37 0.25
Peasants 0.37 0.19
All men 0.38 0.21


Human capital as accumulated experience throughout years barely correlated with wages for those men who earned only rubles. The correlation was stronger for the whole sample showing that the majority of men who earned zero rubles (and worked for food) were in younger cohorts for both peasants and Cossacks.

Table 4.2. Correlations between age and wages for women

All servants (food and money) Servants who work for money
Married -0.23 -0.10
Unmarried 0.23 0.38
Widows -0.41 0.01
All women 0.09 0.38


While Cossacks and peasants so far demonstrated a great deal of similarities in earning wages, women constantly demonstrate that different social status (marital) made a lot of difference for them. When we look to a sample of those women who were working only for rubles, a strong positive correlation between age and wages is observed only for unmarried women. In this case human capital seems to be at work since a young girl without support of a husband increased her capacities to get more money with years, most likely, by getting more relevant experience. From the previous tables we know that widows and married women had higher salaries. However, they demonstrated an interesting pattern of changes in incomes over time. When widows got older they shifted to earn food only. Married women had a quite weak and negative correlation between age and wages, again shifting to food only. Seams that in case of adult women who reached some limits in their age the salary went down. Even more, when they reached some limit of age and did not have a support of a husband the decrease was dramatic. While young girls did not have high salaries, they could enjoy the growth in their incomes. So in case of women a combination of human capital (experience with age for young girls) was combined with social circumstances (married and widows had higher salaries which had only an option to go down)

The next step is to see whether members of different social groups had the same chances on the labor market.


Table 5. Cross tabulation by status of origin and status of an employer

Cossacks Cossacks (high ranked) Manual workers (CRAFTSMEN) Merhcants Professionals total
Cossacks 43 41 22 17 15 138
Peasants 59 92 66 39 21 277
Married 5 30 1 9 9 54
Unmarried 57 135 37 82 43 354
Widows 14 61 4 40 30 149
Total 221 400 152 204 133 972


Table 5 includes numbers of Cossacks, peasants, and women of different marital statuses employed by a certain social group.

In order to analyze this table I compute odds ratios of a person from a group of origin i to be employed by a group j compared to other groups of origin.

Tables 6.1 and 6.2 include respective odds ratios. Table 6.1 compares Cossacks against all other groups, and Table 6.2 compares unmarried girls compared to all other groups.

Cossacks were 1,5 times likely to be hired by other Cossacks and 1,4 times more likely to be hired by professionals when compared to peasants. The only one group that was more likely to higher peasants instead of Cossacks is manual workers. Surprisingly, high ranked Cossacks did not prefer to higher Cossacks more than peasants. Overall, it seems that the roots of discrimination between men were in occupational mobility.

The only two groups who discriminated within a group of women were high ranked Cossacks and professionals. They were likely to higher experienced married women and widows than young unmarried girls who were more often hired by Cossacks and Manual workers.


Tables 6.1 Employment status of Cossacks against all other groups

Reference group All sample
Cossacks hired by Cossacks when compared to: Peasants 1,5
Married 3,4
Unmarried 1,9
Widows 3,3
Cossacks hired by Cossacks (high ranked) when compared to: Peasants 0,9
Married 0,5
Unmarried 0,8
Widows 0,7
Cossacks hired by manual workers when compared to: Peasants 0,7
Married 8,6
Unmarried 1,5
Widows 5,9
Cossacks hired by merchants when compared to: Peasants 0,9
Married 0,7
Unmarried 0,5
Widows 0,5
Cossacks hired by professionals when compared to: Peasants 1,4
Married 0,7
Unmarried 0,9
Widows 0,5


Tables 6.1 Employment status of unmarried girls against all other groups


Reference group All sample
Unmarried girls hired by Cossacks when compared to: Peasants 0,76
Married 1,74
Cossacks 0,52
Widows 1,71
Unmarried girls hired by Cossacks (high ranked) when compared to: Peasants 1,15
Married 0,69
Cossacks 1,28
Widows 0,93
Unmarried girls hired by manual workers when compared to: Peasants 0,44
Married 5,64
Cossacks 0,66
Widows 3,89
Unmarried girls hired by merchants when compared to: Peasants 1,65
Married 1,39
Cossacks 1,88
Widows 0,86
Unmarried girls hired by professionals when compared to: Peasants 1,60
Married 0,73
Cossacks 1,12
Widows 0,60

Conclusions and discussion

 Hypothesis 1 was supported partially, for women only. Indeed, their salaries had a curvilinear relationship with age. Younger unmarried girls enjoyed an increase in salaries. This stopped when women began to be too old for all the tasks she could perform. While young girls did not have high salaries, they could enjoy the growth in their incomes. However, when they got older they began making less money or even shifting to receive only food.

So in case of women a combination of human capital (experience with age for young girls) was combined with social circumstances (married and widows had higher salaries which had only an option to go down).

Hypotheses 2.1 was not supported. Cossacks did not have higher salaries than peasants. And in case of women, as it was discussed above, the situation was more subtle. Married women and widows indeed had higher incomes, however, they were closer to loose these incomes and shift to getting food only with age.

Hypotheses 2.2. was supported. Data suggest that there was certain social discrimination in the labor market since Cossacks were more likely to be hired by other Cossacks and professionals. The same group of employers preferred to higher more experienced married women and widows than young unmarried girls who were more often hired by Cossacks and Manual workers.

Overall, the present study shows that human capital and social origin theories can be successfully employed in studying social inequalities in premodern Ukraine. Careful empirical analysis demonstrates that men (Cossacks and peasants) were not discriminated in terms of incomes. However, peasants were less employed by high-status social groups such as professionals. Moreover, they were less likely to be employed by other Cossacks (low-ranked). The latter is an important finding in light of previously often shifts between peasants and Cossacks who were free in changing their social destination. Studies of occupational inequalities in the end of the 18th century document how exactly social structures in Ukraine gradually began rigid. In the case of women, social status (married or not) canceled out human capital effects.

In case of women interpretation must be more careful since the lack of data. On the one hand, we observe married women and widows to be more likely employed by high-status groups. On the other hand, an explanation of this is obscure. It is possible that human capital plays role here. A woman gains more experience with age and can get a better employer. In this case women may had experience more meritocracy than men. On the other hand, maybe this situation is driven by the support of a husband (or ex-husband in case of widows). Maybe women married to other Cossacks received better jobs. This should be investigated in future studies.


Becker, G., & Tomes, N. (1986). Human Capital and the Rise and Fall of Families.

Journal of Labor Economics, Vol. 4, No. 3, Part 2, 1-39.

Ganzeboom, H.B.G., Treiman, D.J, & Ultee, C. (1991). Comparative Intergenerational

Stratification Research: Three Generations and Beyond. Annual Review of Sociolog; vol 17, 277-302.

Inkeles, A. (1960). Industrial Man: The Relation of Status to Experience, Perception,       and Value. American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 66, No. 1, 1-31.

Kerr, C., Harbison, F., Dunlop, J., & Myers, C. (1960). Industrialism and Industrial           Man. International Labour Review, vol 82, N3, 231-250.

Knigge, A., Maas, I., van Leeuwen, M. H., & Mandemakers, K. (2014). Status      Attainment of Siblings during Modernization. American Sociological Review,         79(3), 549-574.

Mitch D., Brown J., & van Leeuwen M.H.D. (2004). Origins of the Modern Career.

Aldershot: Ashgate.

Miles, A., & Vincent, D. (Eds.). (1993). Building European society: occupational   change and social mobility in Europe 1840-1940. Manchester University Press.

Mundzook, I. (1926). Gogolivska sotna of Kyiv polk 1766: socio-economic

sketch based on Rumyantsev Register ) (in Ukrainian). Studii z istorii Ukrainy Naukovo-doslidchoi katedry istorii Ukrainy v Kyevi, 91-158

Schulz, W. (2013). Careers of Men and Wome in the 19th and 20th Centuries. ICS.

Shamraj, S. (1925). Economic situation of Cossacks from Poltavskiy polk in 1767

(based on Rumyantsev Register ) (in Ukrainian). Zapysky UNT, 88-160

Van Leeuwen, M.H.D., & Maas, I. (2010). Historical studies of social stratification and

mobility, Annual Review of Sociology, 36, 429-451.

Voloshyn, Y. (2013). Servants and attendants in households of Poltava dwellers in the

second half of 18th century. In Early modern human: space, power, and law in 16th-18th centuries (not published yet).

Voloshyn, Y. (2014). Household composition and family structures of Ukrainian

Cossacks in the second half of the eighteenth century, The History of the Family. Published online: 18 Aug 2014.



Tymofii Brik,  PhD student, Universidat Carlos III de Madrid

Forum for Ukrainian Studies

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Stay Up To Date

Subscribe to our email list for regular updates, direct to your inbox.