Leaving Home in a Peasant Society. Economic Fluctuations, Household Dynamics and Youth Migration in Southern Sweden, 1829-1866
Sammanfattning: This study deals with the process of children leaving home and its interactions with the household economy in preindustrial society. A theoretical model of leaving home is outlined and then analyzed multivariately, using a longitudinal micro-level dataset for a sample of parishes in western Scania, Sweden, for the period 1829-1866. In a first introductory part the social and economic background as well as the household and family system of the time is analyzed, showing the highly different character of the household, depending on access to land and the type of land farmed. While peasant households functioned both as production and consumption units to a very high extent, landless and semi-landless households mostly worked only as consumption units. The empirical analysis of the age at leaving home for the first time, using event-history analysis, indicates that the household context regarding demand for household labor, the level of family dependency and the individual’s position within the household played important roles in explaining differences between children in the age at leaving home for the first time. Children of landed peasants left home considerably later than children in semi-landless and landless families, which points to the important role played by the family’s productive resources in the demand for household labor and the decision to leave home. First-born children left home later than children of higher birth order, and children in households with more servants stayed at home longer, which shows the role played by the servant institution in complementing family labor in household production. Using new series of local harvest yields and grain prices, the effect of short-term economic fluctuations on the timing of leaving home is also analyzed. The general picture that emerges from the analysis is one of great variety, depending on age and sex of the child as well as social status and position in the household. In times of unfavorable market conditions (low prices) more well-to-do peasants seem to have economized on hired labor by keeping particularly their younger sons at home longer. In the landless and semi-landless groups the leaving home response to economic fluctuations generally appears to have been much weaker than for peasants, which is explained by the more compressed and structurally determined leaving home process in these groups. A very large majority of landless and semi-landless children left home around the age of 16, which, together with a rather low demand for younger servants, gave much less opportunity for these families to use leaving home as a strategy of consumption smoothing in times of economic stress. All children, except younger boys, also seem to have been affected by the death of one of their parents. For most children the effect of parental death was disruptive, making children leave the household prematurely. In conclusion, this study underlines both the important role played by the leaving home process in understanding the functioning of the preindustrial household economy, and the highly important role played by the household and family in determining leaving home for individual children.
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