Family Institution

Topics: Family, Marriage, Middle Ages Pages: 9 (2555 words) Published: February 9, 2013
Family Structure, Institutions, and Growth: The Origins and Implications of Western Corporations By AVNER GREIF*
There is a vast amount of literature that considers the importance of the family as an institution. Little attention, however, has been given to the impact of the family structure and its dynamics on institutions. This limits our ability to understand distinct institutional developments—and hence growth—in the past and present. This paper supports this argument by highlighting the importance of the European family structure in one of the most fundamental institutional changes in history and reflects on its growth-related implications. What constituted this change was the emergence of the economic and political corporations in late medieval Europe. Corporations are defined as consistent with their historical meaning: intentionally created, voluntary, interest-based, and self-governed permanent associations. Guilds, fraternities, universities, communes, and city-states are some of the corporations that have historically dominated Europe; businesses and professional associations, business corporations, universities, consumer groups, counties, republics, and democracies are examples of corporations in modern societies. The provision of corporation-based institutions to mitigate problems of cooperation and conflict constituted a break from the ways in which institutions had been provided in the past. Historically, large kinship groups—such as clans, lineages, and tribes— often secured the lives and property of their members and provided them with social safety nets. Institutions were also often provided by states and governed by customary or authoritarian rulers and by religious authorities. Private-order, usually undesigned, institutions also prevailed. Corporation-based institutions can substitute for institutions provided in these ways. When they substitute for kinship groups and provide social safety nets, corporations complement the nuclear family. An individual stands to gain less from belonging to a large kinship group, while the nuclear family structure increases its gains from membership in such a corporation. In tracing the origins of the European corporations, we focus on their complementarity with the nuclear family. We present the reasons for the decline of kinship groups in medieval Europe and why the resulting nuclear family structure, along with other factors, led to corporations. European economic growth in the late medieval period was based on an unprecedented institutional complex of corporations and nuclear families, which, interestingly, still characterizes the West. More generally, European history suggests that this complex was conducive to long-term growth, although we know little about why this was the case or why it is difficult to transplant this complex to other societies. We draw on Greif (2006); due to space limitation, most references were omitted. For complete references, see I. The Evolution of Family Structures in Europe

* Greif: Department of Economics, Stanford University, 579 Serra Mall, Stanford, CA 94305-6072 (e-mail: 308

The conquest of the Western Roman Empire by Germanic tribes during the medieval period probably strengthened the importance of kinship groups in Europe. Yet the actions of the church caused the nuclear family— consisting of a husband and wife, children, and sometimes a handful of close relatives—to dominate Europe by the late medieval period. The medieval church instituted marriage laws and practices that undermined kinship groups. Its dogma was self-serving in that it increased, for example, the likelihood that an individual would make a bequest to the church (Jack Goody, 1983). The church discouraged practices that enlarged the family, such as adoption,

VOL. 96 NO. 2



polygamy, concubinage, divorce, and remarriage, and restricted marriages among individuals of...

References: Bates, Robert; Greif, Avner and Singh, Smita.
“Organizing Violence.” Journal of Conflict Resolution, 2002, 46(5), pp. 599 – 628. Berman, Harold J. Law and revolution: The formation of the Western legal tradition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983. Bittles, Alan H. “The Role and Significance of Consanguinity as a Demographic Variable.” Population and Development Review, 1994, 20(3), pp. 561– 84. Goody, Jack. The development of the family and marriage in Europe. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 1983. Greif, Avner. “Commitment, Coercion, and Markets: The Nature and Dynamics of Institutions Supporting Exchange,” in Claude Me´ nard and Mary M. Shirley, eds., The handbook of new institutional economics. Norwell, MA: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2005. Greif, Avner. Institutions and the path to economic modernity: Lessons from medieval trade. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Hamilton, Gary G. “The Organizational Foundations of Western and Chinese Commerce: A
MAY 2006
Historical and Comparative Analysis,” in Gary G. Hamilton, ed., Business networks and economic development in East and Southeast Asia. Hong Kong: University of Hong Kong Press, 1991, pp. 48 – 65. Jabar, Faleh A. and Dawod, Hosham. Tribes and power: Nationalism and ethnicity in the Middle East. London: Saqi Books, 2003. Korotayev, Andrey V. “Unilineal Descent Organization and Deep Christianization: A Cross-
Cultural Comparison.” Cross-Cultural Research, 2003, 37(1), pp. 133–57. Kuran, Timur. “Why the Islamic Middle East Did Not Generate an Indigenous Corporate Law.” University of Southern California, Law and Economics Working Paper Series: No. 16, 2004. Persson, Torsten and Tabellini, Guido. “Democratic Capital: The Nexus of Political and Economic Change.” Unpublished Paper, 2005.
Continue Reading

Please join StudyMode to read the full document

You May Also Find These Documents Helpful

  • role of institutions Essay
  • Characteristics of Social Institutions Essay
  • Social Institution Essay
  • Essay on Law as A Social Institution
  • Sociology
  • Essay on Social Institution: Family
  • Marriage and Family in Different Cultures Essay
  • Social Institution of the Family Essay

Become a StudyMode Member

Sign Up - It's Free