Workshop 'Asset Management of Households in Europe, 1300 - 1800'


January 18, 2012

Utrecht University, Centre for Global Economic History

Organizers: dr. Jaco Zuijderduijn and dr. Tine De Moor

Program and practical details: click here


Recent scholarship has attributed a crucial role to the household in economic history. Much attention has gone to the restrictions to asset management, for instance with respect to legal impediments (marriage contracts, entails), gender-based obstacles (agency in households) and cultural problems (the idea that assets were part of the patrimony) and the effects these had on the economy.


In spite of these restrictions, there are plenty of indications that households could use at least part of their possessions as they saw fit, and also that some impediments to alienation became less severe over time. For instance, in her recent book Commerce before capitalism, Martha Howell describes a number of cultural shifts that helped make property more easily alienable.


Instead of regarding households as units that received assets from ancestors to pass these on to their heirs, this workshop looks at the way households used land, houses and savings during the life cycle. This approach will allow us to grasp one of the dynamics of markets for real estate and capital, and thus to understand economic and social shifts. 


This workshop will center on the question how households made best use of their assets. Did households make adjustments in their struggle for existence, and if so, to what end? Did they merely alienate to survive or to assist kin, or did they also invest? Did asset management involve risk-spreading techniques? And how important were non-economic elements, such as the political benefits and prestige of being a landowner? And which effects did this have on economic and social processes?


The following questions will be addressed in particular:

  • To what degree did households participate in markets for real estate and financial markets?
  • What were the motives for buying or selling property, borrowing or lending? Did asset management allow households to cope with difficulties they encountered in the course of the life cycle (for instance the early adulthood squeeze and retirement squeeze of the life cycle approach of social sciences)? Or did asset management allow for rudimentary types of insurance, for instance by risk-spreading?
  • Who decided about asset management? Did men and women participate in markets for real estate and financial markets?
  • To what degree did family members continue to influence decisions with respect to alienation of property?
  • How important were cultural elements, such as the political benefits of being a landowner, or the notion that land was part of the patrimony?
  • How did shifts in asset management affect economic development (for instance from a Smithian perspective) and social processes?
  • Which differences can be observed when European Marriage Pattern regions (i.e. regions characterized by neolocality of households) are compared to regions where different types of household formation existed?


Program and practical details

The program and practical details can be found here.



This workshop is made possible by funding from the European Research Council under the European Community's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013)/ERC grant agreement n° 240928) as part of the project '"United we stand". The dynamics and consequences of institutions for collective action in pre-industrial Europe'. Further information about this project can be found here.