the hajnal line

from wikip:

“The Hajnal line links Saint Petersburg, Russia and Trieste, Italy. In 1965, John Hajnal discovered it divides Europe into two areas characterized by a different levels of nuptiality.

West of this line, the average age of women at first marriage was 24 or more, men 26, spouses were relatively close in age, and 10% or more of adults never married. East of the line, the mean age of both sexes at marriage was earlier, spousal age disparity was greater and marriage more nearly universal. Subsequent research has amply confirmed Hajnal’s continental divide, and what has come to be known as the ‘Western European marriage pattern’, although historical demographers have also noted that there are significant variations within the region….”

here it is. the caption on wikipedia reads: “The line in red is Hajnal’s. The dark blue lines show areas of high nuptiality West of the Hajnal line.”

so, basically, we’re talking about germanic peoples (west of the line).

michael mitterauer offers several explanations for the characteristics of marriage east of the line including:

“e) Influences of the church

As a rule, Christianity helped to weaken bonds of lineage and descent and strengthen the relations between spouses everywhere. Not everywhere, however, did these principles succeed to the same extent. The penetration of principles of church marriage laws was generally stronger in the area of the Western than in that of the eastern church. Also corporative and communal social forms supported by the church were stronger in the West. Consequently, patrilinear kinship structures were less affected in the area of the orthodox church than in the West. In the long run, however, also in the East Christian principles worked against structures of lineage and descent. Patrilinear patterns totally in contradiction to church marriage law, such as levirate marriages or second marriage in case of a childless first marriage, were maintained in areas of weak church influence in eastern and southeastern Europe.”

from “Whatever Happened to Hajnal’s Line”:

“Interestingly enough, Hajnal’s line followed quite closely the Iron Curtain, then dividing Europe into capitalist and socialist societies.”

this is one of emmanuel todd’s major points in “The Explanation of Ideology” — i.e. that almost all of the nations that became communist in the 20th century had a particular family structure based, amongst other things, on strong, patrilineal lineages. (i’m gonna write up a post on his book — soon. i promise!) i pointed out what looked like a connection between slavs and ex-communist countries here.

also from wikip:

The region’s late marriage pattern has received considerable scholarly attention in part because it appears to be unique; it has not been found in any other part of the world prior to the Twentieth Century. The origins of the late marriage system are a matter of conjecture prior to the 16th Century when the demographic evidence from family reconstitution studies makes the prevalence of the pattern clear….

interestingly, tacitus wrote about late marriage practices amongst the german tribes. it’s hard to tell, tho, if he was working from accurate information, or just reproaching his fellow romans for their morally loose marriage practices. here, from jack goody [pg. 39]:

“Marriages are not made early, for ‘the young men are slow to mate, and their powers, therefore, are never exhausted. The girls, too, are not hurried into marriage’. Was the ‘European pattern’ of late marriage (Hajnal 1965) already in evidence or was this too a figment of Tacitus’ moralising?”

in any case, delayed marriage for westerners (esp. western westerners) is not a new-fangled thing.

(note: comments do not require an email. or any map-folding skillz.)


  1. A significant part of the Catholic marriage pattern may be due to the very strong communal ideology of the Church. In short, you cannot be a Christian unless you are a participating member of a congregation. Combine this with the strong universalist tendency of the Church (catholic means everyone) that equates the nobles and slaves under Jesus, and you have another even stronger reason for exogamy.

    This is not to disparage Aquinas and Augustine who are among the top dozen or so founders of Western Civilization.


  2. i’m gonna write up a post on his book — soon. i promise!

    Please do! I’ve got it on order but it’s going to take weeks. I’m really interested in this, as it’s related to some academic work I’m working on.

    I was able to get Todd’s ‘The Invention of Europe,’ and I’ve just started it, seriously interesting stuff about the ‘4 family types’ of W. Europe as he calls them, and how they all seem to end up different religiously AND politically. (He traces from 1500 to the present.)

    What’s missing though is Eastern Europe, and that’s something I’m really curious about. The whole ‘why some peoples adopted Commnunism easily while others didn’t’–I’ve been trying to connect the ethnic and religious dots, it seems there’s definitely a pattern. Can’t wait to read the ‘Explanation of Ideology’ book.


  3. @bob – “A significant part of the Catholic marriage pattern may be due to the very strong communal ideology of the Church.”

    well, the funny thing about that is when you get into more modern times, the highest cousin-marrying rates are found in catholic countries in europe — especially southern europe — whereas the germanic, protestant countries have pretty low cousin-marriage rates. so, catholic and catholic. (~_^)

    compare italy and spain and portugal, for instance, with consanguinity rates ranging from 1.1 – 12.6%(!) to the u.k. and norway and the netherlands which are all well below 1%.

    kinda funny. the germanics seems to have taken the church’s incest laws more strongly to heart.


  4. @m.g. – well, i decided to write a full post on “The Explanation of Ideology” rather than just leave a comment here. look forward to hearing your thoughts on what todd has to say! (^_^)


  5. Dear hbd–very good points. However, Germany and Northern Europe were Catholic before the reformation. So, the question is, What is the timing of the move to exogamy? Did it occur during the pagan era or during the Catholic era? Of course, there was a strong pagan element well into to Catholic era, and it seems to be recovering.


  6. “So, the question is, What is the timing of the move to exogamy? Did it occur during the pagan era or during the Catholic era?”

    Interesting question. The north has less consanquinity now so that gives two possibilities.

    1) They were more in-bred than the south originally (or similar) but after they got the cousin-marriage ban from Catholicism they simply applied it more strictly than the south i.e. they were more inclined to put the law above maintaining family inheritance.

    2) They were already more out-bred than the south for some other reason and the Church ban increased it.

    I tend to think allowing yourself to be ruled by a commonly accepted law is in itself a hint of greater exogamy if you see acceptance of the rule of law as a unifying idealogy and that unifying idealogies are needed to boost blood-ties when you have exogamy.

    So i’m wondering if in the south the Church’s injunction prevented too much in-breeding but in the north it did more than that, it increased a level of out-breeding that for some reason had already occurred?


  7. @bob – “So, the question is, What is the timing of the move to exogamy? Did it occur during the pagan era or during the Catholic era?”

    yes, those are the questions i’ve been asking myself, too.

    on the one hand, germanic peoples were clearly practicing some level of endogamy in their pre-christian days. the very fact that they were tribal indicates this, plus the early medieval laws (i.e. having to stipulate that marrying cousins was no longer kosher).

    i’m inclined to believe that the germanics weren’t as endogamous as, say, the arabs today and that’s why they adopted the new exogamous practices at all. it didn’t require such a push to get the population to be exogamous.

    on the other hand, i’ve been wondering if there was something about the germanic character, even back then, that made the practice spread. were the germans back then at all like the germans today? you know, kinda efficient and liking conformity? they don’t have to have been, but maybe they were. if so, perhaps, when the new christianity meme hit, they all jumped on that bandwagon pretty quickly. maybe. pure speculation, of course.


  8. @g.w. – “They were more in-bred than the south originally (or similar) but after they got the cousin-marriage ban from Catholicism they simply applied it more strictly than the south….”

    yes. see my comment above about, perhaps, there being something in the national character of germans, i.e. a liking to apply an idea across the board as efficiently as possible and/or (kinda like east asians also are) being somewhat conform and everybody in the group eager to follow the trend.


  9. hbdchick

    Yes. Either way the church-ban is actual evidence as opposed to fun speculation and it’s the end-result: exogamy > x, which is probably key.


  10. Interesting. Note the areas west of the Hajnal line have typically been the more advanced European societies i.e. France, Germany, England. As Hoppe points out in Democracy The God That Failed, lower time preferences initiate the process of civilization.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s