Laslett and the History of Family Structure

A look at the reconstruction of family composition in Europe during the early modern period of the 17th and 18th centuries by historians such as P. Laslett.

The paper examines the reconstruction of family composition in 17th and 18th centuries by historian, P. Laslett in his book “The World We Have Lost”. It explores why some theories such as the late age of first marriage that was apparently unique to pre-modern Europe, have not been challenged, while others, such as the notion of a stable nuclear pattern, have been disputed at length.
“Because early modern Europe was principally a rural and class-based society, the family structure during this era was highly reliant upon on social rank. When there was land and money at stake, marriage within the same social class was paramount. The poor were also limited to marrying within their social class, but had a larger pool of potential mates from which to choose. This was a time in history in which two-generation households, rather than three-generation households, were customary. The oldest members of the household traditionally bestowed any holdings they had to the next generation upon retirement, and remained in close proximity to the family. The close support that existed between relatives living in separate but neighboring homes makes it difficult to distinguish whether the independent nuclear family was the basic family unit during this time, or whether it was actually the extended family (Laslett, 1984).”