Aiding and Aging: The Coming Crisis in Support for the Elderly by Kin and State

By John Mogey | Go to book overview

1
HOUSEHOLD COMPOSITION AMONG
THE ELDERLY IN THE UNITED STATES
AND HUNGARY: A COMPARISON

Bernard Farber, John Mogey, Ione DeOllos, Robert A. Lewis

Variations in domestic arrangements among the elderly can reveal much about the character of their family and kinship ties. Households in the United States and Hungary reflect two different historical traditions. On the one hand, in its formative years, the United States was populated mainly by migrants from Western Europe, particularly from Great Britain. As a result, Western European marriage and household patterns predominated, that is, late marriage and/or nuclear-family households ( Laslett, 1972; Habakkuk, 1955; Hajnal, 1965). This tradition is associated with the norm of primogeniture, which preserves estates in the hands of a single heir and which (for economic reasons) forces the other offspring to delay marriage and to form independent households. However, in order to inhibit great concentrations of wealth facilitated by primogeniture, the various states adopted partible inheritance laws ( Keim, 1926). Yet, in the early years of the American republic, the ready availability of land limited the effects of the division of estates upon the timing of marriage and limiting family size ( Habakkuk, 1955).

On the other hand, Hungary has had a long tradition of partible inheritance, early marriage and extended-family households ( Andorka, 1978: 9-18). In past generations, compatible with their practice of patrilineal, partible inheritance, the Hungarian peasant populations sought to limit births, which in extreme instances meant having only one child per couple or, at least, "one plot, one child." Instead of controlling births through late marriage, the Hungarians used folk contraceptive methods and abortion. The firm limitation on fertility permitted parents and their married children to form extended-family households that could accommodate all of the heirs and thereby provide for optimal

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