Partner Selection in a Late 19th Century Urban Setting: Census-Based Evidence from Tartu, Estonia

Hannaliis Jaadla, University of Cambridge
Martin Klesment, Tallinn University
Mark Gortfelder, Tallinn University

Historical demographers have extensively studied the importance of nuptiality regulating marital fertility and population growth in pre-industrial Europe. Most of the focus has been on the timing and incidence of the marriage but also on the differences of partner selection. This latter strand of research mainly engages with social boundaries in marriage formation, age and geographic homogamy. However, most of the previous research on marriage patterns and family formation has largely focused on Western and Northern Europe, meaning that a considerable part of the continent has not been included in these discussions. In some of the less studied regions in Eastern Europe, the existing knowledge on demographic modernisation, including changes in nuptiality, stems exclusively from aggregate-level analyses.

This paper aims to contribute to the literature by analysing heterogamous versus homogamous partner selection in the late 19th century urban marriage market in Tartu, Estonia, using the First Russian Imperial census in 1897. We ask whether educationally heterogamous marriage was more associated with certain groups, potentially contributing to their social mobility. The analysis focuses on four main characteristics: socio-economic background (education), ethnicity, age, and place of birth. We apply different regression models to estimate the probability of ending up in a heterogamous union and to analyse the age gap between spouses. With churches'' marriage records linked to the census data, transition to first marriage can be analysed to estimate the determinants of the timing and probability of homogamous and heterogamous marriages. Preliminary results indicate a higher proportion of heterogamous unions among individuals with medium or high education. The results also suggest that a higher than primary education and foreign background made it more likely that men were able to marry younger wives.


Background

Historical demographers have extensively studied the importance of nuptiality regulating marital fertility and population growth in pre-industrial Europe. Most of the focus has been on the timing and incidence of the marriage but also on the differences of partner selection. This latter strand of research mainly engages with social boundaries in marriage formation, age and geographic homogamy (Beekink, Liefbroer and van Poppel 1998, Van Leeuwen 2002, Van de Putte 2003, Maas and Zijdeman 2010).

However, most of the previous research on marriage patterns and family formation has largely focused on Western and Northern Europe, meaning that a considerable part of the continent has not been included in these discussions (Puschmann and Solli 2014). In some of the less studied regions in Eastern Europe, the existing knowledge on demographic modernisation, including changes in nuptiality, stems exclusively from aggregate-level analyses. This leaves the early phases of the transition in this region poorly charted.

This paper aims to contribute to the literature by analysing heterogamous versus homogamous partner selection in the late 19th century urban marriage market in Tartu, Estonia using the First Russian Imperial census in 1897. What were the important determinants structuring marriage formation? Were certain social or ethnic groups more restricting in partner selection than others? We are also interested in whether educationally heterogamous marriage was associated to social mobility. The analysis will focus on four main characteristics: socio-economic background (education), ethnicity, age and place of birth.

Data and Methods

The main data for this study come from the First Russian Imperial census in 1897 for Tartu, the second largest town in the Governorate of Livonia by the end of the 19th century. The presence of the oldest university in the Baltic provinces of the Russian Empire rendered Tartu an important centre of higher education and science; the university was the largest employer in the town (Leppik 2006). The records used in this study are based on local copies of the census lists and were computerised in the 1990s (Berendsen and Maiste 1999). This unique collection of census data provides individual-level information on demographic, socio-economic and cultural-ethnic characteristics, housing, and sanitation for the entire population of the town. Recorded family relationships make it possible to link married spouses and their children if they were residing in the same household at the time of the census. To overcome the cross-sectional nature of the census data, we use local churches’ marriage records that are linked to the census. This allows extending the study with an analysis of the timing of marriage.

To answer our research questions, we apply different regression models. We model the probability of one being in a heterogamous marriage as opposed to being in a homogamous union. Using linear regression, we analyse age heterogamy and its association with the educational pairing of the couple. Finally, we apply survival analysis to estimate how the transition to marriage associates with the person’s background characteristics that shape the odds of ending up in a homogamous or heterogamous union.

Preliminary results

Our preliminary results indicate a high proportion of heterogamous unions among individuals with medium or high education. The prevalence of heterogamy, however, is strongly associated with the birth cohort, although less so for women. In educationally heterogamous marriages (generally the man more educated than the wife) age difference between spouses is found to be bigger than in homogamous unions by about 1 year. We also find that men who migrated to Tartu from outside of Estonia tend to have younger spouses. The results suggest that post-primary education and foreign background made it more likely that men were able to choose younger wives.

References

Beekink, E., Liefbroer, A. C., and van Poppel, F. (1998). Changes in choice of spouse as an indicator of a society in a state of transition: Woerden, 1830–1930. Historical Social Research/Historische Sozialforschung, 231–253.

Berendsen, V. and Maiste, M. (1999). Esimene ülevenemaaline rahvaloendus Tartus: 28 Jaanuaril 1897. [The first Russian Imperial census in Tartu on 28 January 1897] Kirjastus Eesti Ajalooarhiiv.

Leppik, L. (2006). Tartu Ülikooli teenistujate sotsiaalne mobiilsus 18021918 [The social mobility of employees of the University of Tartu]. University of Tartu.

Maas, I., and Zijdeman, R. L. (2010). Beyond the local marriage market: The influence of modernization on geographical heterogamy. Demographic Research, 23, 933.

Puschmann, P., and Solli, A. (2014). Household and family during urbanization and industrialization: efforts to shed new light on an old debate. The History of Family, 1–12.

Van de Putte, B. (2003). Homogamy by geographical origin: Segregation in nineteenth-century Flemish cities (Gent, Leuven, and Aalst). Journal of Family History, 28(3), 364–390.

Van Leeuwen, M. H. (2002). Partner choice and homogamy in the nineteenth century: Was there a sexual revolution in Europe? Journal of Social History, 36(1), 101–123.

Presented in Session 1233: Posters