The Patriarchy Index: a comparative study of power relations across historic Europe

Siegfried Gruber, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research
Mikolaj Szoltysek, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research

The notion of ‘patriarchy’ has pervaded the scholarly descriptions of peasant families in preindustrial Europe. In using the term, however, scholars have referred to many different elements (e.g. the dominance of patrilineal descent, domination of men over women and of the older generation over the younger generation). Combinations of these elements have been used 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 power relations in historical 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 information from census and census-like materials for a sample of over one million individuals from historical Europe from the Atlantic Ocean to the Ural Mountains. For all available datasets from the Mosaic Project ( and the North Atlantic Population Project (, we compute a list of well-specified variables and based on these variables an index of patriarchy is proposed. The index allows us to identify regions with different degrees of patriarchy within one country and a map of patriarchy within Europe.

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Presented in Session 68: Household formation, marriage and social mobility in the past