Are all joint families the same? A tour around the globe with historical and IPUMS international data

Siegfried Gruber, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research
Mikolaj Szoltysek, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research

Among the many issues discussed in association with the increased use of scientific samples of census microdata, the questions of who lives with whom, and for what reasons, remain central. Diversity in people’s living arrangements reflects a variety of preferable or achievable residential patterns, and likely indicates differential notions regarding the way obligations to kin from outside the immediate family are structured. In the scholarly literature, nuclear-, stem-, and joint-family systems were often juxtaposed as leading to different demographic outcomes, performing welfare functions towards their members on a different basis, and coping with economic hardships in a different manner. In the history of humankind the laterally extended families have made their appearance in such diverse places as central and northern Italy, France, Finland, and Russia, and have been a common form of household organization in many areas of the Balkans, historical Belarus, as well as among Asian societies, most notably in China and India. But are joint-family societies all the same? This paper re-addresses the nature of joint-family systems in a global perspective. It combines IPUMS International data with a newly available collection of census listings from Eastern, Central, and Southeastern Europe from between the late 18th and early 20th centuries to identify several "hot-spot areas" of family complexity around the globe. To this material new measures of ‘jointness’ of family coresidence are applied in order to reveal various attributes of household organization and living arrangements in a comparative perspective. Preliminary results point to a non-negligible morphological variegation within societies adhering to ‘joint-family rules’, suggesting a necessary modification to an all-encompassing concept of the joint-family system.

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Presented in Session 2: Families and households

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