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Istanbul Households: Marriage, Family and Fertility, 1880-1940.

Published in the Cambridge Studies in Population, Economy and Society in Past Time, the book represents the authors' efforts to integrate their findings about Middle East populations into the broader literature on pre-modern and modern population characteristics. It will appeal to European and "Third World" analysts as well as specialists on the Ottoman Empire and the Middle East.

The book was inspired by the authors' realization of the vast difference between the demographic characteristics of Istanbul and rural Turkey during the 1930s. At that time, Istanbul, the former Ottoman capital, was many times larger than its closest urban rival. Istanbul women were giving birth to slightly over two children and were marrying very late, at 23-24 years, while the men averaged around 30 years. In rural Turkey at the time, by contrast, women were bearing seven children and married at age 19, while the men averaged 22 years of age.

Struck by these differences, the authors set out to document and explain changes in marriage patterns, family and household structure and household formation and fertility in Istanbul during the period 1880-1940. Their findings are fascinating and shed much new light on the characteristics of the population of this great Middle Eastern city. Generally, the authors conclude, the patterns in Istanbul were closer to those in Europe than to those in the rest of the Middle East. More specifically: mixed (in terms of class and social status) neighborhoods in the 19th century acquired a class-basis during the 20th century; households averaged only 4.7 persons and complex households were unusual; the marriage age of Istanbul women rose about one year per decade; males married and became heads of households at the same time; few remained single; polygamy was very rare; family planning including abortion was very common; love marriages became the ideal and were more frequent but parents till arranged most unions.

The Duben-Behar work follows studies of 19th-century Ottoman population by Justin McCarthy and Kemal Karpat. McCarthy's work is more purely demographic in nature while that of Karpat tends more in the direction of social history. The Duben-Behar work is a richer mix of materials for both demographers and social historians. There are plenty of tables and graphs framed by technical discussions (that I found tedious) to placate the former and there are sterling discussions of love and marriage, polygamy, westernization and the new family and family planning, that will delight the social historian. The introduction, on sources, is a must for social historians.

There are some problems. Are the units of comparison comparable? Can one compare the characteristics of the European population with those of the Istanbul populace when the nature of the European group is not made clear? Are the European populations that are the authors' basis of comparison urban or rural? This is important for the Middle East component of the comparison is a vast urban metropolis and an imperial capital to boot. Also, as the authors indicate, the sources used undercount the artisans and workers of Istanbul. While the authors acknowledge this as a problem, they only imperfectly escape from it and often discuss "Istanbul women" or "Istanbul household" when, in fact, they mean the literate and the elite. There remains a bias, in favor of these literate, bureaucratic, elite groups. Time and time again, the authors are pulled in the direction of their elite sources and the lower strata appear too infrequently.
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Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Quataert, Donald
Publication:Journal of Social History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1993
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