European society and the experiences of everyday life were increasingly shaped by commercial and agricultural capitalism, notwithstanding the continued existence of medieval social and economic structures.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, Europeans experienced profound economic and social changes. The influx of precious metals from the Americas and the gradual recovery of Europe’s population from the Black Death caused a significant rise in the cost of goods and services by the 16th century, known as the price revolution. The new pattern of economic enterprise and investment that arose from these changes would come to be called capitalism. Family-based banking houses were supplanted by broadly integrated capital markets in Genoa, then in Amsterdam, and later in London. These and other urban centers became increasingly active consumer markets for a variety of luxury goods and commodities. Rulers soon recognized that capitalist enterprise offered them a revenue source to support state functions, and the competition among states was extended into the economic arena. The drive for economic profit and the increasing scale of commerce stimulated the creation of joint-stock companies to conduct overseas trade and colonization.
These demographic and economic changes altered many Europeans' daily lives. As population increased in the 16th century, the price of grain rose and diets deteriorated, all as monarchs were increasing taxes to support their larger state militaries. All but the wealthy were vulnerable to food shortages, and even the wealthy had no immunity to recurrent lethal epidemics. Although hierarchy and privilege continued to define the social structure, the nobility and gentry expanded with the infusion of new blood from the commercial and professional classes. By the mid-17th century, war, economic contraction, and slackening population growth contributed to the disintegration of older communal values. Growing numbers of the poor became beggars or vagabonds, straining the traditional systems of charity and social control. In eastern Europe, commercial development lagged and traditional social patterns persisted; the nobility actually increased its power over the peasantry.
Traditional town governments, dominated by craft guilds and traditional religious institutions, struggled to address growing poverty. The Reformation and Counter-Reformation stimulated a drive to regulate public morals, leisure activities, and the distribution of poor relief. In both town and country, the family remained the dominant unit of production, and marriage remained an instrument of families’ social and economic strategies. The children of peasants and craft workers often labored alongside their parents. In the lower orders of society, men and women did not occupy separate spheres, although they performed different tasks. Economics often dictated later marriages (European marriage pattern). However, there were exceptions to this pattern: in the cities of Renaissance Italy, men in their early 30s often married teenaged women, and in eastern Europe, early marriage for both men and women continued to be the norm. Despite the growth of the market economy in which individuals increasingly made their own way, leisure activities tended to be communal, rather than individualistic and consumerist as they are today. Local communities enforced their customs and norms through crowd action and in some cases, rituals of public shaming.
1.4.1: Economic change produced new social patterns, while traditions of hierarchy and status continued.
1.4.1.A: Innovations in banking and finance promoted the growth of urban financial centers and a money economy.
1.4.1.B: The growth of commerce produced a new economic elite, which related to traditional land-holding elites in different ways in Europe’s various geographic regions.
1.4.1.C: Established hierarchies of class, religion, and gender continued to define social status and perceptions in both rural and urban settings.
1.4.2: Most Europeans derived their livelihood from agriculture and oriented their lives around the seasons, the village, or the manor, although economic changes began to alter rural production and power.
1.4.2.A: Subsistence agriculture was the rule in most areas, with three-crop field rotation in the north and two-crop rotation in the Mediterranean; in many cases, farmers paid rent and labor services for their lands.
1.4.2.B: The price revolution contributed to the accumulation of capital and the expansion of the market economy through the commercialization of agriculture, which benefited large landowners in western Europe.
1.4.2.C: As western Europe moved toward a free peasantry and commercial agriculture, serfdom was codified in the east, where nobles continued to dominate economic life on large estates.
1.4.2.D: The attempts of landlords to increase their revenues by restricting or abolishing the traditional rights of peasants led to revolt.
1.4.3: Population shifts and growing commerce caused the expansion of cities, which often placed stress on their traditional political and social structures.
1.4.3.A: Population recovered to its pre–Great Plague level in the 16th century, and continuing population pressures contributed to uneven price increases; agricultural commodities increased more sharply than wages, reducing living standards for some.
1.4.3.B: Migrants to the cities challenged the ability of merchant elites and craft guilds to govern, and strained resources.
1.4.3.C: Social dislocation, coupled with the shifting authority of religious institutions during the Reformation, left city governments with the task of regulating public morals.
1.4.4: The family remained the primary social and economic institution of early modern Europe and took several forms, including the nuclear family.
1.4.4.A: Rural and urban households worked as units, with men and women engaged in separate but complementary tasks.
1.4.4.B: The Renaissance and Reformation movements raised debates about female education and women's roles in the family, church, and society.
1.4.4.C: From the late 16th century forward, Europeans responded to economic and environmental challenges, such as the Little Ice Age, by delaying marriage and childbearing. This European marriage pattern restrained population growth and ultimately improved the economic condition of families.
1.4.5: Popular culture, leisure activities, and rituals reflecting the continued popularity of folk ideas reinforced and sometimes challenged communal ties and norms.
1.4.5.A: Leisure activities continued to be organized according to the religious calendar and the agricultural cycle and remained communal in nature.
1.4.5.B: Local and church authorities continued to enforce communal norms through rituals of public humiliation.
1.4.5.C: Reflecting folk ideas and social and economic upheaval, accusations of witchcraft peaked between 1580 and 1650.