Our editors will review what you’ve submitted and determine whether to revise the article.Join Britannica's Publishing Partner Program and our community of experts to gain a global audience for your work!
Peasant, any member of a class of persons who till the soil as small landowners or as agricultural labourers. The term peasant originally referred to small-scale agriculturalists in Europe in historic times, but many other societies, both past and present, have had a peasant class.
The peasant economy generally has a relatively simple technology and a division of labour by age and sex. The basic unit of production is the family or household. One distinguishing characteristic of peasant agriculture is self-sufficiency. Peasant families consume a substantial part of what they produce, and, while some of their output may be sold in the market, their total production is generally not much larger than what is needed for the maintenance of the family. Both productivity per worker and yields per unit of land are low.
Peasants as a class have tended to disappear as a society industrializes. This is due to the mechanization of farming, the resulting consolidation of farming plots into larger units, and the accompanying emigration of rural dwellers to the cities and other sites of industrial employment.
Learn More in these related Britannica articles:
primitive culture: Peasant societiesThe one remaining category of nonurban society is that of the peasantry. Peasants are not nomadic but sedentary (thus distinguishable from both hunting-gathering societies and pastoralists); they are not horticultural tribal societies but more intensively and fully agricultural; and neither are they urban,…
history of Europe: Political, economic, and social background…Europe, however, the formerly free peasantry was now forced into serfdom by an alliance between the monarchy and the landed gentry, as huge agrarian estates were formed to raise grain for an expanding Western market.) Manufacturing boomed, especially of those goods used in the outfitting of armies and fleets—cloth, armour,…
history of Europe: Denmark…house of Oldenburg, but the peasantry suffered from the spread of a German style of landownership. Frederick IV cared much about their souls, and his son Christian VI provided for their schooling, but a decree of 1733 tied peasants to their estates from the age of 14 to 36. Frederick…