A COMPARATIVE PERSPECTIVE ON CHANGING HOUSEHOLD AND FAMILY STRUCTURE IN MID-VICTORIAN HERTFORDSHIRE
Despite the seminal studies dedicated to family structure and household composition, there has been a dearth of these studies since the 1980s, when it was perceived by social historians as outmoded in the context of the burgeoning cultural approach to historiography. Even in the most dedicated circles of historical demography, where the Census Enumerators’ Books (CEBs) were (and still are) used extensively, little has been done in the study of family structure to compare earlier census records with the latest to have been publicly released. Research is particularly lacking when the agricultural and market town communities of southern England are considered. This study provides a comparative perspective on changing household and family structure through the digitised spreadsheets of the 1851 and 1891 CEBs for eight Hertfordshire parishes. Transcribed versions of the original CEBs enable a more detailed analysis of changing household size, extended kinship rates and patterns of co-residence between elderly and offspring. This analysis finds that household composition was linked with the economic circumstances and geographical settings of the local communities in question. By 1891, household size in Hertfordshire was generally consistent with 1851 due to population growth in the towns alongside a contraction in the agricultural communities. While wider kinship rates and co-residential patterns fell by the late nineteenth-century, across time familial relations with wider kin and with the elderly were more significant than previous studies have given credit for. Occupational structure, gender and migratory patterns produced variations by parish in the proportion of wider kin and elderly-offspring co-residence, with figures above the findings in previous studies. This thesis concludes that household composition cannot be solely explained by the expectations of a “rural” or “urban” parish, as households were governed by parish-level discrepancies. This thesis ends by discussing the benefits of digitised census data in encouraging further research and reinforcing the benefits of historical demography.