MPIDR Working Paper

Spatial variation in household structures in 19th-century Germany

Szołtysek, M., Gruber, S., Klüsener, S., Goldstein, J. R.

MPIDR Working Paper WP-2010-030, 28 pages (October 2010).
Rostock, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research

Revised March 2013 This working paper has been published. See the link above for further information.

Keywords: German Empire, family forms, historical demography


Historical Germany represents a perfect laboratory for studying interregional demographic differences, yet the historical family structures in this part of the European continent remain largely unexplored. This study seeks to fill this gap by documenting the variability of living arrangements using an aggregate measure of household complexity based on published statistics of the German census of 1885. We apply descriptive methods and spatially sensitive modelling techniques to this data in order to examine existing hypotheses on the determinants of household complexity in historical Europe. We investigate how regional variation in agricultural structures and employment, inheritance practices, ethnic background, and other socio-demographic characteristics relate to regional variation in household structures. Our results show that areas with low levels of household complexity were concentrated in south-western and southern Germany, while areas with high levels of household complexity were mostly situated in northern and north-eastern Germany. Contrary to our expectations, we found that the supposedly decisive socio-economic and cultural macro-regional differences that are known to have existed in late 19th-century Germany were at most only weakly associated with existing spatial patterns of household complexity. Our results tend to support Ruggles’ (2009) view that spatial variation in household structures is mostly linked to the degree of employment in agriculture and demographic characteristics.