Reconsidering ‘Reconsidering the Northwest European Family System’: A Comparative Analysis of Joint-Family Patterns

Steven Ruggles, University of Minnesota

In a paper presented at PAA in 2009 and published in Population and Development Review shortly afterward, I argued that there was little evidence to support the thesis that Northwest Europeans and North Americans had an exceptional historic pattern of preference for nuclear families. I found that that with simple controls for agricultural employment and demographic structure, there was no systematic difference in intergenerational coresidence between nineteenth-century Northwest Europe and North America and twentieth-century developing countries. This paper builds on the 2009 analysis, but draws dramatically different conclusions. Using microdata from 100 censuses of 44 countries, I identify a distinctive Northwest European aversion to residence in joint families. I find virtually no joint families anywhere in Northwest Europe or North America at any time over the past 160 years; in other regions, however, joint families have been 10 to 40 times more frequent.

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Presented in Poster Session 3