Debates on marriage patterns

What characterizes the EMP?


The European Marriage Pattern (EMP) as described by John Hajnal has, since its publication in 1965, been the starting point of many publications. Hajnal not only discovered this distinct pattern; in his article he also called for a quest to answer when and how the EMP originated. What did Hajnal see as the most striking difference between the North-West European Marriage Pattern and the pattern which prevails in the rest of the world? The EMP, according to Hajnal, basically distinguishes itself by two main features; the first being a high age at marriage for both men and women and the second being a high proportion of people who never marry at all (Hajnal 1965:101), again for both men and women. Hajnal draws a line from Leningrad to Trieste and situates the EMP to the west of this line. But although he speaks of marriage patterns, his theory is largely built upon the way in which households were built: a typical feature of the North-West EMP is that couples usually form a new household around the time of marriage, which is referred to as neolocal household formation (Hajnal 1982). Central to the EMP is the fact that in North Western Europe newlyweds founded a new household (neolocality) instead of starting out as a couple within an already existing household, of, to mention just a few of the possibilities; either the man (virilocality), the man and his parents (patrilocality), his wife (uxorilocality), or his wife and her parents (matrilocality). It is exactly this neolocality, under the premise that the new conjugal household is more or less economically independent, that is paramount to the European Marriage Pattern.


In itself, the accompanying late marital age would not be very surprising, considering those premises; setting up an economically self-sustaining neolocal household requires resources. The European Marriage Pattern, however, also has a specific feature that might indicate that both spouses contribute to the formation of the new household: in the whole of the EMP area the age gap between both spouses is small. Would the age gap be wide, let us say ten to fifteen years or more, the setting up of an independent household would -at least for women, and only if men can afford to sustain a household by themselves - not demand for an elevated marital age. The very fact that, in the case of the EMP, the age-gap is small might indicate that women themselves (and no longer necessarily their parents) contribute to the formation of the neolocal household. Since another feature of the EMP happens to be a ‘high proportion of people who never marry at all’, is it possible that the formation of economically independent neolocal households had become too expensive?


Hajnal adds to his theory in 1982 when he links the EMP to a ‘household formation system’, stating that, apart from a high age at marriage and neolocality, the North-Western European household system is characterized by young people circulating between households as servants, a theory elaborated upon by Peter Laslett, who called it the ‘life-cycle-service’ (Laslett 1983, 1988). But although Hajnal claims that households, apart from the conjugal pair with children, consist of ‘substantial numbers of servants and also some other persons called lodgers’ (Hajnal 1982: 455), he is aware of the fact that he is not very sure about his definition of the household and doubts if those servants eat or live within the household or should be counted as separate households. But whether or not those young men and women became part of other households, the very fact that unmarried women earned their own income outside the household is seen as a unique feature of the North-West EMP. Jack Goldstone links the fact that women were able to work outside their households and accumulate property directly to the fact that the industrial revolution started in Europe, and not in China. With all other conditions in place for the rise of a textile industry, the presence of a large number of women able to work as cheap labor force was absent in China, where women were confined to their homes (Goldstone 1996). The life-cycle-service would have provided for a cheap labor force, paving the way for the Industrial revolution.


A second specification given in the article of 1982 concerns the characteristics specific of non-EMP household formation: apart from early marriage and joined or extended household formation, by which the married couple moves into an already established household, those joined or extended households (with several married couples living together) tend to split in two or more households. However, even though the thought of splitting is central to this non-EMP household formation system, Hajnal does not go into much detail on the reasons for splitting. Furthermore the focus on household formation misses certain life-cycle aspects that might influence household formation in both the EMP as well as the non-EMP areas. Widowhood and remarriage, for instance, have a huge impact on household formation, and similarly on property distribution (not only between a man and woman, but also among respective offspring). Both the splitting of households as well as the mentioned life-cycle aspects, with special attention for the role of unmarried women and widows as household heads, would form interesting themes for future research into the characteristics of the EMP.



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