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Josef Ehmer: Heiratsverhalten und sozialökonomische Strukturen: England und Mitteleuropa im Vergleich [1996]. [Abstract] [Article in German]

This chapter deals with the relationship between demographic and socio-economic trends, and particularly with the impact of “social traditions” on that relationship. The starting point of this analysis is the observation that long-term trends regarding marital age in England and Central Europe stood diametrically opposed to each other: The end of the Industrial Revolution marked a period when the marital age was at its lowest in England, while in Central Europe, the marital age was higher than ever before and after. Furthermore, mid-nineteenth-century English marriage patterns were largely homogeneous in geographical and occupational terms, while in Central Europe, there were major disparities between regions and occupational groups. I argue that these differences are based on distinct traditions of wage labour. Wage labour had become almost universal in England at the eve of the Industrial Revolution, and it had also become self-evident that workers across all occupations should marry and start a family. By contrast, life-long wage labour had remained a marginal experience in Central Europe; most wage labour was performed by young and unmarried men and women as part of a single and distinct phase in the life course. The bearers of this tradition were peasants and artisans in the crafts and trades who expanded their economic role during the era of industrialisation and urbanisation in the nineteenth century. This analysis is embedded in a broader discussion about the benefits and problems of comparative research and the role social traditions play in navigating fundamental structural change.

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