How to keep a household account book had been part of the curriculum of domestic science schools for young girls since 1865. In 1886 and 1891 the Dutch Statistics Institute used these account books to investigate household budgets. The Institute regretted that the “labouring classes” were not really ready to cooperate. Workers were not used to keeping account books, and some wives were unable to read or write. On top of this, the researchers from the Statistics Institute encountered a great deal of mistrust:
“Whenever the well-to-do show any interest in the situation of the lower classes, they encounter a deeply rooted, lamentable suspicion about their intentions.”
In fact, the Institute’s intentions were not altogether altruistic and unprejudiced. It assumed that workers would not be entirely truthful when filling in the account books, and that the worker would be
“… inclined to doctor the books in order to get financial support. It is as if he saw it as an opportunity to appeal for an allowance. When income failed to be declared, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred it had probably been spent at the pub.”
The Institute wanted the Church and charity workers to oversee the completion of the account books. In cases of fraud, they could withdraw any financial support being provided to the individual concerned. (Bijdragen Statistisch Instituut 1886, 1891)
The Sociaal-Democratische Studieclub (Social Democrat Research Club), the Dutch Labour Party’s research unit, began to investigate the budgets of workers’ households in 1910. Its political aim was to provide insight into the financial needs of workers. The diamond workers were deliberately excluded from their investigation “owing to their special position” – they probably earned too much. Of the 131 families asked to take part, 28 dropped out immediately.
“Some of them made it clear that they felt ashamed to publicize their toil and moil.”
Members of the Social Democrat Women’s Clubs visited workers’ families to help them fill out the household account books. (Arbeidersbudgets, Bro N358/40 fol)
The 1950s saw a peak in the use of household account books. The hardships of the war years and rationing (until 1949 in the Netherlands) had educated Dutch housewives in the art of being thrifty. Various government agencies propagated frugality and saving. It was in 1954 that the Family Expenditure Institute was set up.
Reformatories to re-educate families branded as antisocial were established. In the 1950s social workers were given the task of teaching women how to manage a household budget. “They felt a strong aversion towards account books … In many cases, budgeting had to be taught from scratch.” (NRMW11/F/60, Gezinsoorden,1957)