MPIDR Working Paper

Quantifying patriarchy: an explorative comparison of two joint family societies

Gruber, S., Szołtysek, M.

MPIDR Working Paper WP-2012-017, 32 Seiten (April 2012).
Rostock, Max-Planck-Institut für demografische Forschung


The notion of ‘patriarchy’ has pervaded the scholarly descriptions of peasant families in historical Eastern and South-Eastern Europe. The term has often included many different elements, such as the dominance of patrilineal descent, patrilocal or patrivirilocal residence after marriage, power relations that favour the domination of men over women and of the older generation over the younger generation, customary laws that sanctioned these patterns, the absence of an interfering state that could mitigate their influence, and an inert traditional society that emanated from these conditions. Combinations of these elements have been used to explain the peculiarity of the residence patterns in the East and South-East of Europe relative to the West, but in a manner that generally does not allow researchers to measure comparatively the ‘intensity’ of patriarchy across time and space. In this paper, we propose a handy tool for comparative studies of joint families, and argue that ‘patriarchy’ can be meaningfully measured in quantitative terms. We also suggest approaches for measuring patriarchy, and provide a list of numerical variables easily derived from census microdata that can be used for measurement purposes. To illustrate how these comparative studies can be conducted, we use census and census-like materials for two historical joint family societies from the European East (Poland-Lithuania and Albania). For both datasets, we compute a list of well-specified variables and investigate how they correlate with each other. Finally, based on these variables, an index of patriarchy is proposed, allowing us to identify regions with different degrees of patriarchy within one country.