Life-cycle impact on consumption in southern Sweden, probate evidence from southern Sweden c. 1680-1860

Lilla Sparbanksfoajén Session 7: Life cycles incomes and relief during stages of economic hardship organized by Anton Svensson and Louise Cormack


Marcus Falk


It is well known among historians of the north-west European early modern household that the lifecycle stage of the household has a large impact on the possible income of the household. However, the actual impact of household life-cycle stage on consumption and household material living standards remains somewhat elusive. Utilizing the extensive, and often comprehensive, collection of probate material available for the early modern period allows us an opportunity to at least identify broad trends. Though probate records, at least for Sweden, consistently lacks the age at death; by linking these individuals to parish registers in which this information exists, or utilizing a proxy based on the relative legal age of the children of the deceased when this is unavailable, we can effectively locate probated households within the household life cycle. With a large enough sample, we should be able to not only analyze the possible impact that household age had on household consumption, based on the goods owned by the household, but also whether this changed in any significant way over the course of the early modern period. Based on recent research on household life-cycle economics, the income potential of households over the life cycle should follow an inverted U-shaped curve: Starting low for young families, increasing as children get older and can start contributing labour to the household, and then decrease again as children move out and the household heads get older (Horell et al. 2021). It is less known, however, how, more specifically, these life cycle shifts in income would affect the material conditions of the household. Life-cycle servanthood before starting a household together with the ability to compensate for missing labour potential through the hiring of servants, both common among the predominantly rural population of the early modern period, would have worked to counteract the lower incomes during the early and late stages in the household life cycle (de Vries 2008; Lindström 2008). Utilizing the available probate data, we should be able to get to the bottom of this, and identify possible correlations between the material conditions of the household and their life-cycle stage


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