The majority of people still lived in the country in Elizabethan times (about four fifths of the population), and the commonest way to make a living was by running a smallholding (small farm), which provided enough food for the family running it, and the surplus would be sold. These were normally passed on through families. Usually the farmer (husbandman as he was known in elizabethan times), would grow the crops etc,and his wife would be in charge of the poultry and the dairy, she would do the milking, make the butter and cheese, and sell her surplus chickens, eggs and dairy products at market. She would also brew the beer that the family drank (water was considered unwholesome) and might sell her surplus beer as well. Running a smallholding would not be regarded as a job exactly, more as a way of life. Children would help out as soon as they were old enough.
Working as a servant was a very common form of employment for young people of both sexes (most people generally gave up being servants when they married). To be a servant, a young person would need to be healthy and able-bodied and hard-working, those would be the main qualifications. Every family who could afford it employed servants, even a quite humble family would keep a maidservant, and a wealthy household might employ dozens. Being a servant was not considered a demeaning form of employment in those days, servants were generally treated like junior members of the family.
Many boys and some girls were apprenticed to trades; often they would be apprenticed to the trade they had grown up with, the one practiced by their parents, or they might be apprenticed to a different trade if they had the aptitude for it. A reasonable degree of intellgience and some skill at whatever trade they were employed in would be the main qualifications required. Some common trades practiced in Elizabethan times would include blacksmith, carpenter, builder, tanner, weaver, dyer, fuller, tailor, shoemaker, goldsmith, baker, butcher, grocer, miller, printer.
A lot of girls and women made a living by spinning wool or flax into thread (hence the word 'spinster', still in common usage until quite recently to describe an unmarried woman), or by knitting or sewing. The recordss of the poor for Norwich in 1570 for example list a 14-year-old girl who was supporting her entire family by knitting 'great hosen' (stockings).
One of the most prestigious jobs a woman could do was to be a midwife. Childbirth was an exclusively female affair in elizabethan times, no men were admitted to the birthing chamber, and so the midwife was an important person. She had to be a woman of good character and was licensed by the local bishop, because she was authorised to baptize newborn babies if she thought they would not live long enough to have a proper christening.
There were professions for which a university education would be considered essential, boys who wanted to be doctors, lawyers, or clergymen would need to go to university. The university curriculum was based mainly around the classics (Latin and Greek) and included some mathematics and music as well.
Answered By: Louise C - 5/22/2010