The Pauper Household Small and Simple?


Within the literature on household and family in past time it has become accepted wisdom that the households of the poor were particularly small in size and simple in structure. There is good reason, however, to call this view in question. First, a critical reassessment of the two types of source material which have hitherto been used to substantiate this view leaves serious doubts as to their suitability for a statistical analysis of pauper households. It can be shown that listings of inhabitants do not normally indicate which households are poor while pauper lists do not record households at all. Second, there is numerical evidence to show that the households of the poor could actually be larger and more complex than those in the rest of the population. The example of the Essex village of Ardleigh in 1 796 is quoted to this effect, suggesting further that the record linkage oflistings of inhabitants with pauper lists is the only effective method of producing reliable comparative statistics on the size, composition and structure of the pauper household.

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Sokoll, T., (1987) “The Pauper Household Small and Simple?”, Ethnologia Europaea 17(1), 25–42. doi:


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Thomas Sokoll (Fernuniversität Hagen)



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