Pre-Industrial Families and the Emergence of a Modern Family Form



Contemporary families are changing in ways that suggest to some that the family is in decline. Yet popular notions are based on misconceptions of how families lived in the past. Baca Zinn and Eitzen show how social forces and macro structures impact families and cause them to change over time. Today we will examine White families in the premodern period (from the early 1600’s to 1800) and the period of transformation to the modern family (1800-1850)

I. FAMILY LIFE IN COLONIAL AMERICA Relationships of White colonial families to the larger society produced unique patterns that can be contrasted with family life in later periods. A. Macro Structural Conditions and Family Life Family life in the colonial U.S. was characterized by a mode of production called the family-based economy. All family members worked at productive tasks differentiated by sex and age. No sharp distinction was made between family and society. In addition to its economic task, the family performed many functions that have since been taken over by specialized institutions. Family matters were not considered private; instead, intervention by community members and the state was common.

B. Family Structure and Household Composition Common wisdom once held that nuclear families emerged as a response to industrial society. But historians and sociologists, using the family reconstitution method, have found that colonial families were typically nuclear in structure. Families tended to be larger than contemporary families, but smaller than the stereotypical portrayal.

C. Wives and Husbands In the early colonial period, marriages were arranged based on the social and economic purposes of larger kin groups. Romantic love was not wholly absent, but marriage was more of a contractual agreement based upon a specific and sharp gender-based division of labor. A shortage of women in this period enhanced the status of women, but despite this, wives were unquestionably subordinate to their husbands.

D. Children Families of the premodern period reared large numbers of children, but household size was not very large because childbearing extended over a long span of years. Children’s religious training was intensive and discipline severe. Childhood was recognized as a separate stage of development, and children, like spouses, were viewed in economic terms. Social class and regional differences, however, are responsible for some variation in the lives of children.


Modern family life began to emerge at he end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth. The rise of the modern family accompanied the movement of productive work from the household to other settings. Households became smaller, more private, and families became idealized.

A. Macro Structural Changes and Family Life The main reason for changes in family patterns was industrialization. Employment in or near the home declined and was replaced by work in factories and shops. The period of the family-wage economy began. No longer the center of production, families took on highly specialized functions of procreation, consumption, and child-rearing. The privatization of family living meant that individuals were less accountable to their communities for their behavior in families.

B. Agency, Adaptation, and Change While family change has been presented as tied to macro social and economic change, two additional themes are important: individuals were not passive victims of change; and family arrangements shaped the emerging social order.

1. Responses to the Dilemma of Declining Land Families adapted the inheritance system to balance family desires with rapid population growth and industrialization.

2. How Families Shaped Society The family played an important role in society’s adaptation to industrialization by extended family business relationships and family alliances.

C. Household Structure and Household Size Transition to a wage economy facilitated smaller households by removing apprentices, artisans, boarders and lodgers. Servants were also less likely to be household members, except in upper- and middle - class families.

D. Wives and Husbands Romantic love and mutual affection replaced economic considerations in choosing marital partners. With industrialization, production was transferred outside the family and activities split into the male world of work and the female world of the family. Working-class women continued their productive roles in the industrial labor force.

E. Children Attitudes about both children and child rearing practices changed at this time. Children came to be viewed as different than adult: innocent, and with special needs. Children’s experiences were determined largely by the class and status o the family into which they were born. The privatization of families meat that children were brought up solely by parents.

F. Challenging a Singular Definition of the Family The modern family form emerged as a race-specific and class-specific arrangement. Yet a uniform image of family has dominated the public memory and has established that form as normative for all families.


Hareven's research on patterns in family history has concluded that
a.  families are passive victims of social change.
b.  community involvement is rare among early colonial families.
c.  there is not a continuous linear pattern of change among all families toward
    a more modern level.
d.  all immigrant groups have similar patterns of adjusting to family life in the U.S.

The research technique that brings together scattered information about family members
in successive generations is referred to as
a.  family revisionism.
b.  aggregate data analysis.
c.  family genealogy.
d.  family reconstitution.

All of the following were functional roles of the colonial family EXCEPT
a.  family as school.
b.  family as church.
c.  family as encumbrance.
d.  family as house of correction.

Which of the following characterizes marriage in the colonail period of U.S. history?
a.  Romantic love was the basis of the marriage relationship.
b.  Decision making was largely shared by the husband and the wife.
c.  Marriage was primarily an economic union.
d.  Incompatibility and lack of affection were viewed as grounds for divorce.

The term primogeniture refers to
a.  the likelihood that children from more than one marital union would be 
    cohabitating in the same household.
b. the public chastising of wayward individuals.
c. the transfer of the family land to the oldest son.
d.  none of the above.

The privatization of family living that accompanied industrialization resulted in
a.  family activities being less observable to the larger community.
b.  a decline in external social control over family behavior.
c.  the fostering of an ethic of individual rights.
d.  all of the above.

Which of the following is NOT one of the effects of industrialization on middle-class
women's roles?
a.  Women became the moral guardians of the home.
b.  Married women increased their participation in the public sphere.
c.  Caretaking and nurturing became primary roles.
d.  Women's and men's roles overlapped far less than in the preindustrial U.S.

Which of the following describes the status of women in oclonial and emerging modern families?

a.  During the colonial period wives were subordinate to husbands but as teh modern 
    family emerged, relations became egalitarian.
b.  During the colonial period spousal relations were egalitarian but women were subordinated with the emergence of the modern family.
c.  During both periods relations were patriarchal, with wives subordinate to their husbands.
d.  None of the above.

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