MPIDR Working Paper

Reproductive behavior of landless agricultural workers, small farmers, and the economic elite in the historical Krummhörn region [East Frisia, Germany, 1720-1870]

Willführ, K. P., Störmer, C.

MPIDR Working Paper WP-2013-011, 44 Seiten (August 2013).
Rostock, Max-Planck-Institut für demografische Forschung

Schlagworte: Germany, family reconstitution, historical sources, reproductive behavior, social stratification


The historical population of the Krummhörn region [1720-1850] in the northwest of Germany can be characterized as a non-industrialized, pre-capitalist agricultural society. Around 70 percent of the families had either no land or owned farms too small to ensure subsistence, and therefore worked on the big farms owned by the families of the economic upper class. The economic elite made up around 15 percent of the population, but they owned 80 percent of the farm land. The remaining 15 percent of the population did not belong to the elite, but owned estates that were big enough to support their families, and were therefore economically independent. During the study period there were no famines or wars, and mortality, especially of infants, was very low compared to mortality in other German regions. Furthermore, the population was not naturally fertile. As there were on average only four to five births in complete families, the population was barely growing. In this paper, we investigate how the reproductive behavior of these families was affected by their social status and by short-term fluctuations in their socioeconomic conditions. Poisson and Cox regression models are used to analyze the age at first reproduction, fertility, the sex ratio of the offspring, sex-specific infant survival rates, and the number of children. In addition, we investigate how fluctuations in crop prices affected seasonal-specific infant mortality and fertility. We also include information about the seasonal climate that may had an effect on crop prices as well as on infant mortality via other pathways. In sum, we find that reproductive success (the number of children born and the number of children surviving to adulthood) was correlated with social rank. Individuals from high-ranking families had more births and a higher number of surviving children. We also find that social strata-specific constraints were important factors: birth rank and sex-specific reproductive values affected both infant mortality and the female age at first marriage differently in the different social strata. High crop prices were associated with a rise in infant mortality in the autumn and the winter, which may have been a reflection of a tense situation among the landless. Meanwhile, warm or hot weather was associated with an increase in child mortality in the summer, possibly because of the increased risk of infection with malaria, a common disease in the Krummhörn region at that time.