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Lines on the Map: the Hajnal Demographic Divide

Submitted by on February 15, 2012 – 1:25 am 5 Comments |  
Wikipedia Map of the Hajnal Demographic LineA little-noted cartographic genre is based on heavy lines, named for the individuals who brought them to notice, that separate broad areas distinguished by specific features. Examples include Wallace’s Line, which separates Eurasian from Australian wildlife regions in eastern Indonesia, and the Barassi Line, which divides Australia into rugby and Australian-rules-football spheres. In Europe, one of the more prominent of such divisions is the so-called Hajnal Line, extending from St. Petersburg to Trieste, which supposedly splits Europe into two historical demographic regions. West of the line, marriages were traditionally late (averaging around twenty-four for women and twenty-six for men), the age-gap between husbands and wives was relatively small, and a significant proportion of the population never married. East of the line, the opposite conditions supposedly obtained. Many demographers have argued that the marriage patterns found to the west of the line did not exist elsewhere in the world, and that they were significant both in constraining fertility and nurturing subsequent European economic development.

More recently, many demographers and other scholars have questioned both the validity and significance of the Hajnal Line. But regardless of the specific empirical evidence for or against the line’s existence, I am highly suspicious of its geographical position. It is extraordinarily unlikely that any such line would take a straight course between two cities, as it was originally conceived. The Wikipedia map of the subject, moreover, does not even correctly place the line, as its southern terminus is offset well to the west of Trieste. The second map’s revised line, shown as meandering across Europe, is seemingly more realistic. Still one must wonder whether eastern Hungary and eastern Slovakia have ever differed substantially from western Hungary and western Slovakia in regard to marriage patterns. In the end, variation in such matters is usually a matter of subtle gradients rather than hard divisions.


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  • Yah, tracing a line where a cline would do better is nonsense. Wallace Line is good because the clinality of intercontinal transition is quite abrupt, so clusters are a much better concept (however there’s still some clinality and Wallace Line fails to capture it on its own).

    Anyhow, according to what I recall from Economic History class, Mediterranean Europe was supposed to have a high tension demographic system, at least in the Middle Ages, with early marriages and uncontrolled reproduction causing demographic booms and crashes cyclically. Maybe it was mostly inspired in Naples and Southern Italy than other areas but still the concept seems to exist and was supposedly contradicted by a Northern European system as you describe here for West Europe, whose foundation was single-heir inheritance of the farm (delaying marriage and reproduction).

    This system was anyhow also at work among Basques but I’m quite unsure it existed further South.

    • Martin W. Lewis

      Good point about clines vs. lines, and about Wallace’s Line. I would need to read more about European demographic history to comment on your other observations, but they do sound reasonable.. 

  • I wonder what it means that the line extends from or to a city? Which side of the line is that city supposed to be on? Of course, it’s one of the two cities in the case of Hajnal line that I am particularly curious about…

  • If eastern Hungary and Slovakia did not differ from each other in nuptiality, it would be one of the few ways in which they did not differ.  I suspect that a demographer with a name like Hajnal would not ignore Hungary.

    • Martin W. Lewis

      Great points — many thanks.  I knew that eastern and western Hungary are quite different, but I was not aware that Slovakia also has a strong east/west divide (I think of it as split much more on north/south lines). I assume that the fact that Bratislava is in the far west is significant in this regard. 

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