Household Formation in Rural India: An Explanatory Study

Frenzen, Paul D.

     Households are fundamental social institutions. This study explores the determinants and correlates of different household forms in rural India at the aggregate level, using various measures of the individual characteristics of 323 administrative districts derived from the 1971 Census of India and other published sources. Local variations in household complexity are measured by the average demographic and kinship composition of the rural households in each district. Geographic variations in these measures indicated that household complexity was greatest in districts on the Ganges plain and in northwest India, and least in the extreme south and along the eastern coast. These variations apparently reflected local differences in the duration of joint family residence and the timing of household partition. Multivariate regression analysis then revealed that seven different factors accounted for much of the local variation in household complexity. In general, rural households were more complex in districts where traditional joint family residence norms were strong, patrilineages were more important, women had less status, and demographic conditions increased the availability of extended kin. In contrast, households were less complex in districts where incomes were higher and literacy was more extensive. However, a separate investigation of the other correlates of household complexity was less conclusive. Districts with more complex households also had higher rates of permanent celibacy, lower fertility levels, and higher rates of adult male out-migration, but the causal relationships between these factors and household complexity did not become clear at the aggregate level. Overall, the findings from this study suggest that future attempts to develop a theory of household formation must take account of cultural norms about kinship and the other institutions of entire populations, as well as the costs and benefits of coresidence perceived by individual adults.