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family reconstitution

  A technique of nominal linkage in demographic analysis. Family reconstitution creates accurate fertility and mortality rates from data about vital events (births, marriages and deaths): such data are sometimes available in cases where the absence of a census inhibits the calculation of demographic measures. The researcher assembles all information relating to one marriage on a family reconstitution form: date of marriage, birth and death dates of spouses and of children, and socio-economic information (e.g. occupation). A range of measures may then be calculated, including age-at-marriage, proportion of adult males and females ever married, age-at-death, and childbirth patterns among women.

Reconstitution methodologies are intricate, but designed to eliminate ambiguities arising from migration and other factors which cause people to enter and leave the study area population. Various \'observation rules\' determine whether particular individuals are regarded \'in observation\' in a parish register at any given time: for example, following a baptism it is necessary to know whether an infant continues to be resident, if that infant is to be used in calculating infant mortality rates, and this is inferred according to the subsequent appearance in the register of other events relating to the same family. The significance of precise rules for establishing an individual\'s presence in observation was first set out by French demographers M. Fleury and L. Henry, and adapted for English parish registers, available from 1538, by E.A. Wrigley (1966).

The interpretation of the demographic measures obtained from reconstitutions has been much-debated. Obviously, measures which require data relating to an individual over many years use fewer data than those which require presence in observation for only a short period. Thus infant mortality rates are typically based upon 80 per cent or more of legitimate births, whereas age-at-marriage calculations rarely involve more than half of marriage partners, and age-specific fertility rates are typically based upon 15 to 20 per cent of legitimate births. Some debate surrounds the representativeness of the immobile population that remains in observation within a single parish, especially for topics requiring long observation periods of individual families (Souden, 1984).

The main application of family reconstitution has been for pre-census Europe and colonial North America, and based on church registers of baptisms, marriages and burials (note that the first and last of these may not equate exactly with births and deaths). The procedures are very time-consuming, but some progress in computerizing them has been made at the ESRC Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure. Wrigley et al. (1996) analyse completed family reconstitutions for the whole parish register period from 26 English parishes, in conjunction with their previous aggregate analysis of vital events in over 400 parishes (Wrigley and Schofield, 1983). Partial family reconstitutions over shorter time periods have been undertaken for several dozen other parishes.

These studies have indicated the predominance of natural fertility in pre-industrial European and American populations, with only very limited family limitation before the late nineteenth century. They also enable the beginnings of analysis of long-run geographical variations in nuptiality, fertility, and mortality, and comparisons with nineteenth-century census data (Wrigley and Schofield, 1983; Woods and Wilson, 1991, Wrigley et al., 1996). Substantial geographical variations, both within and among countries, have been reported in marriage patterns and timing, in marital fertility, and in infant mortality (Wrigley, 1998). The integration of reconstitution studies with information on migration patterns has begun to produce sophisticated accounts of interrelated economic and demographic change (Galley, 1995). (PDG)

References Galley, C. 1995: A model of early modern urban demography. Economic History Review 48: 448-69. Knodel, J. 1988: Demographic behaviour in the past: a study of fourteen German village populations in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Souden, D. 1984: Movers and stayers in family reconstitution populations. Local Population Studies 33: 11-27. Woods, R. and Wilson, C. 1991: Fertility in England: a long-term perspective. Population Studies 45: 399-415. Wilson, C. 1986: The proximate determinants of marital fertility in England 1600-1799. In L. Bonfield, ed., The world we have gained: histories of population and social structure. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 203-30. Wrigley, E.A. 1966: Family reconstitution. In E.A. Wrigley, ed., An introduction to English historical demography. London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 96-159. Wrigley, E.A. 1998: Explaining the rise in fertility in England in the \'long\' eighteenth century. Economic History Review 51: 435-64. Wrigley, E.A. and Schofield, R.S. 1983: The population history of England 1541-1871: a reconstruction. London: Edward Arnold. Wrigley, E.A., Davies, R., Oeppen, J. and Schofield, R.S. 1996: English population history from family reconstitution, 1580-1837. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Suggested Reading Knodel (1988). Wrigley, Davies, Oeppen and Schofield (1996).



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