Debates on marriage patterns

How can a change in the marriage pattern lead to more freedom to organize in non-kin related groups?


The emergence and growth of corporations was, it has been suggested quite often but never clearly demonstrated, connected to a weakening of family ties in Europe. Mitterauer (2003) argues that more ‘open’ forms of social organization than systems based on kinship or tribal relations might have played a part in the development of these institutions of collective action, and particularly its form. Societies organised around strict family lineage, tribal structures, or clans, may not have provided enough ‘space’ for the development of collective action (see also Glick, 2005 and Greif, 2006a). This suggests that changes to the family structures set in motion a whole chain of events that set Europe on its specific trajectory of collective action and economic development, where family solidarity was gradually replaced by other forms of solidarity.

This also throws new light on the functions of the new institutions of collective action that emerged: these institutions (such as guilds) were also substitutes for family solidarity, in the form of funerals, arrangements for widows and orphans of members, etc. The creation of nuclear households away from the paternal household, and the increasingly gender-balanced relationship between generations and within the household, both resulted in considerably weakened family ties, in comparison with multi-generation households and patri-local and arranged marriage systems. These changes had an impact on collective action institutions. Guilds, for instance, not only responded to the consequences of the changes in family relations, with services such as poor relief, but they could emerge precisely as a kind of ‘artificial family’ (Black, 2002) because the traditional family system was weakened.

This potential influence of changes on the micro-level, the household structure, on the meso-level of organisations within society has not yet been studied thoroughly, either by historians or by other scientists (for an exception see e.g. Coleman, 1990). When sociologists consider this level of interaction, weakening family ties are usually considered a consequence of major economic changes, such as the Industrial Revolution. However, seen from a long-term perspective, one cannot deny that most of the fundamental features of the post-Industrial Revolution family had already been in place for a long time.

The 'weakening family ties' were the result of a long-term process that started in the Middle Ages and would eventually lead to the emergence of what has been termed ‘the European Marriage pattern’ (De Moor and Van Zanden, 2006 and 2010). The European Marriage Pattern, as first described by Hajnal in 1965, was characterised by neo-locality, free choice of marriage partners, advanced age of marriage and high percentages of singles, both for men and women. It emerged as a pattern within Western European society during the late Middle Ages. Its features have led to on the one hand more ‘democratic’ relationships within the households, both between the sexes and the generations, and on the other hand a loosening of family ties.

In Southern Europe, where there is little sign of an EMP-like pattern, families remained largely organised in a patriarchal, patri-local way. This in turn influenced the way in which children of different sexes were treated within households: women received (nearly) equal opportunities in terms of education and labour market participation. They could enter the labour market as well-educated as their male peers, and this, as we argued, influenced the economic development of Western Europe significantly. The relatively equal position of women within the household, moreover, increased the stock of human capital of European societies significantly, giving them a head-start on the path to economic growth. Recent studies have shown that societies with marriages based on consensus tend to invest more equally in the education of both boys and girls (Edlund, 2006) than those with arranged marriages.



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