Dissolution of Extended-Family Households in Northern Orkney, Scotland, 1851-1901

Julia A. Jennings, Pennsylvania State University
Corey S. Sparks, University of Texas at San Antonio
James W. Wood, Pennsylvania State University
Patricia L. Johnson, Pennsylvania State University
Timothy M. Murtha, Pennsylvania State University
Stephen Matthews, Pennsylvania State University

Historical demographers usually identify extended households as those in which more than one married couple occupy a single domicile. In some rural areas, however, it may be more important that they co-reside on a single farmstead and share the minimal resources needed to run the farm, even if living in separate houses. By this definition, we have found frequencies of household extension in Orkney, Scotland (1851-1901), ranging from 3-38%, depending on island and period. Why are extended households common in Orkney and, if household extension is advantageous, why is it not even more common? We consider Hammel’s suggestion (Proc Nat Acad Sci 102:7043-6, 2005) that household extension may dampen unfavorable fluctuations in household consumer/producer ratios by combining nuclear families at differing phases of their life cycles, but include another important limiting factor: as households become more extended, they become larger and need more land.

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Presented in Session 120: Historical Demography