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Family organisation and human capital inequalities in historical Europe: testing the association anew

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Szołtysek, M., Poniat, R., Klüsener, S., & Gruber, S. (2019). Family organisation and human capital inequalities in historical Europe: testing the association anew. In C. Diebolt, A. Rijpma, S. Carmichael, S. Dilli, & C. Störmer (Eds.), Cliometrics of the family (Studies in economic history, pp. 83-119). Cham: Springer.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0006-B0E0-5
There has been a growing interest in the question of whether variation in family systems is a factor in the disparities in growth, development, and human capital formation. Studies by proponents of the field of new institutional economics have suggested that differences in family organisation could have considerable influence on regional developmental inequalities in today’s world, while a number of economic historians have argued that certain systems of marriage and household structure in the European past might have been more conducive than others to economic growth. Despite recent criticism of these ideas by Dennison and Ogilvie, who argued that the family has no exogenous effects on growth, the debate over this potential relationship continues. However, we believe that this discussion has suffered from a lack of historical data that would give a fuller picture of the rich diversity of family settings and from methodological shortcomings that have so far hindered the proper operationalisation of historical family systems and their potential effects on developmental outcomes. In this chapter, we apply a recently developed multidimensional measure of historical familial organisation, the Patriarchy Index (PI), and use spatially sensitive multivariate analyses to investigate its relationship with human capital levels, as approximated by numeracy across 115 populations of historical Europe. We find a strong negative association between the Patriarchy Index and regional numeracy patterns that remains significant even after controlling for a broad range of other important factors. Our observation that family-driven age- and gender-related inequalities, as captured by the index, are relevant for understanding variation in basic numeracy patterns in the past suggests that there are indeed important links between family organisation and human capital accumulation that merit further investigation.