The Shadow of the Family: Historical Roots of Social Capital in Europe.
Abstract: This study provides new evidence on how historic patterns of household formation shape present day social capital and institutions. Indeed, our study is the first to test three distinct features through which the prevalence of nuclear households favored bridging forms of social capital and impartial institutions today: (a) smaller household size in terms of the number of household members, (b) weaker loyalty bonds to extended kin, and (c) more egalitarian generational and gender relations within the household. The first part of our study covers 26 European countries that participated in the Life in Transition Survey in 2010. The second part uses historical census data for 429 sub-national regions in 5 West European and 21 East European countries. Both parts of the analyses find that more egalitarian generational and gender relations in historic family structures are clearly the decisive feature in favoring bridging forms of social capital and impartial institutions today, with an astoundingly powerful impact over large stretches of time. This result challenges the literature’s focus on household size as the most consequential characteristic of pre-industrial nuclear families.