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Trouwen in Nederland: Een historisch-demografische studie van de 19e en vroeg-20e eeuw.

According to the ideas of 19th century middle and upper classes the lower classes married too young and did not consider their financial and social position. Young families crowded with children, extreme poverty and finally criminality were the forecast results of early marriages. It is one of the aims of Van Poppel's study on marriage to reconsider 19th century prejudices. Result based on thorough demographic research do not confirm these ideas. Skilled, unskilled, casual and agricultural labourers married indeed at an average age younger than farmers, intellectuals, civil servants and people from the higher classes, but the difference was not as great as the views of contemporaries presumed. People from all classes married above the' age of 25. 'A proper time to marry' was embedded in the ideology of middle and upper class morality.

This is only one of the many myths the Dutch historian and demographer Frans va Poppel would like to dispute. Van Poppel's study consists in fact of three books: one on marriage, one on widowhood and remarriage, and one on divorce. Fo each part he combines 19th and early 20th century ideas, 20th century international and Dutch historiography and empirical research. Although the study is basically demographic, as the subtitle states, Van Poppel impresses by his knowledge of 19th century ideas on his topic. He discusses at ease legal documents, popular literature and the writings of feminists, neo-Malthusianists and hygienists.

In international historiography it is common knowledge that the average age at marriage was high until approximately 1850 and that afterwards the age at marriage slowly began to decline. Men were usually a few years older at marriag than women and after widowhood men remarried sooner and more frequently than women. In general the Netherlands did not differ much from this "European marriage pattern" (although the average age at marriage started to decline later, namely after 1860-70). It is not Van Poppel's aim to repeat these global views but to research regional and social differences. In the eastern and southern parts of the Netherlands the average age at marriage was much higher than in the northern and western parts. Van Poppel's results are based on the marriage certificates from several Dutch municipalities in the period 1812-1912 Class differences decreased in the course of the 19th century, as especially me from the higher classes started to marry at a younger age. The observation made by the Dutch sociologist Hofstee that a pre-industrial marriage pattern was replaced by a "proletarian marriage pattern" could thus not be confirmed. Van Poppel also criticizes Hofstee for drawing conclusions on regional and social differences without using large scale empirical material.

Remarriage was in the 19th century a permanent characteristic of the European demographic pattern. In Dutch historiography it is alas a much neglected topic. Studies like Dupaquier's on widowhood and Phillips' on divorce do not exist for the Netherlands.(1) One of the reasons for this neglect is the time consuming method that has to be used in order to shed light on these topics. In analyzing remarriage it is necessary to follow different birth cohorts over the life course. Examining marriage certificates at one point in time is not sufficient because these certificates do not always make clear whether a first or a second marriage is concerned. Tracing cohorts is only possible by making case studies. As a consequence the chapters on widowhood and remarriage are based on death certificates of married people in the Dutch municipalities Breda and Gouda, while the chapters on divorce are based on marriage and divorce certificates in the Dutch residency The Hague.

After the death of the spouse the widow or widower was followed through the population registers of Breda and Gouda in order to trace the moment of remarriage. In the case of The Hague married couples were investigated until th moment of divorce. After the divorce the men and women were followed until remarriage or death. Population registers are a popular source for Dutch social and demographic historians, because they allow a longitudinal approach. By following people through the registers household situations over longer periods of time and transitions over the life course can be traced. The registers were earlier used by demographic historians working for the NIDI (the Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institutes), where Van Poppel also works.(2)

The registers supply detailed information on household situation and age of widows and widowers. In this way it can be examined whether household size, age and remarriage were interrelated. Age and sex seemed to be important factors in analyzing the probability of remarriage. In general 10-20% of all people remarried in the second half of the 19th century. For people under 30 this percentage was 80-90. Sex differences (more men than women remarried) occurred most clearly above the age of 45. Sex differences also occurred in relating the probability of remarriage to the size of the household. Women with young children remarried less often than men. Only when widowers had a daughter about the age of 12 or older were they less willing to remarry quickly.

Van Poppel did not use a case study approach in analyzing class differences in marriage patterns. In further research this method should also be used for this topic. Van Poppel's social stratification was based on professions, because professions can easily be obtained from marriage certificates. In recent historiography tax registers are preferred above data based on professions because many professions (e.g. merchants) do not give detailed information on someone's social background. Taxes like the Inhabited House Duty, a luxury tax, give a good indication of social class but can only be obtained by tracing individuals, a more time consuming method. Another problem is that in this stud women were placed in the same social group as their spouses. In this way social mobility through marriage and the possible effects of social mobility on the ag of marriage could not be obtained.

These are however minor points. Van Poppel's study will be of considerable use for scholars studying marriage, marital dissolution and remarriage in the Netherlands. The book also offers a lot of information for family historians, social historians and cultural historians. Especially the confrontation of demographic material with 19th century ideas makes this study worth reading. In this respect Van Poppel's study certainly is also of importance to an international audience. An English edition should therefore be welcomed.

Monique Stavenuiter University of Groningen


1. J. Dupaquier, ed., Marriage and Remarriage in Populations of the Past (London, 1981); R. Phillips, Putting Asunder, a History of Divorce in Western Society (Cambridge, 1988).

2. C. Gordon, The Bevolkingregisters and Their Use in Analyzing the Co-residential Behaviour of the Elderly (The Hague 1989); E. Bulder, Household Structures of Elderly in the Past: A Cast Study of two Dutch Communities in the period 1920-1940 (The Hague, 1990).
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Article Details
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Author:Stavenuiter, Monique
Publication:Journal of Social History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1994
Previous Article:The Making of Modern Marriage: Matrimonial Control and the Rise of Sentiment in Neuchatel, 1550-1800.
Next Article:Uncertain Unions: Marriage in England, 1660-1753.

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