In the village of Laren in Gelderland, the extended family exists next to the individualized family. As in almost all agricultural societies of the past and in the many present societies of the third world, the family consists not only of parents and their children, but also of grandparents and even their parents, of uncles and aunts and sometimes even other kindred.
While the extended agricultural family of the richer alluvium (Groningen, Friesland, Holland, Zeeland) developed to nuclear families long ago, the multi-generation household of the poorer soil of the diluvium remained unchanged. Where the "peasants" (Redfield) became "farmers" on the alluvium, there still were mostly "peasants" on the diluvial soil. A chance for an important economic development did not exist for them, and it was only after the introduction of artificial fertilizers that the farms in Laren started growing. Real "farmers" were few until the last decades.
But the custom remained unchanged: the agrarians stayed together in extended families, although economic reasons for doing so became less important. Nevertheless, the fact that farmhands became scarce and expensive may have influenced the situation: it was not only cheaper but indeed necessary to work together with members of the older generation.
While elsewhere the parents built a house next to the farm or in the village, here they stayed at the farm and were cared for when of old age. For them there was no reason to move, on the contrary.
Whereas at present agrarians in Laren live in a nuclear family (23%), this is in many instances caused by "passive" family individualization: when inhabiting members of the older generation die, the younger remain in situ.
However, a new form of family individualization developed: the farm-house was divided in two, and each generation got its own household, but with some, or even many, communal provisions. Exceptions were the few new houses built on the farm-grounds.
For many outsiders, non-agricultural insiders and farmers living in nuclear families in Laren, and for some agrarians of the extended families this lack of family individualization was an aspect of Laren which had to be terminated as quickly as possible because of the injury it was supposed to do to body and soul of the persons concerned. Research carried out by sociologists suggested that many frustrations existed for the younger generation that married into the extended family. As a result an impairment of their health, particularly their mental health, was to be expected.
The two general practitioners in the area saw the problem from another angle: they saw several in-living young couples, and particularly the female partner, with complaints which had or suggested a psycho-social background. The fact that an increase of this type of complaints was described by other physicians in areas with exclusively individualized families came to their attention only later. Several in-married persons came with specific complaints, attributed to their lack of privacy and autonomy. Sometimes the general practitioner had to talk for a long time with members of each generation to help them find a solution for their problem. This was sometimes a problem of the old people too: their grandchildren showed a conduct which they could not understand.
It was for these reasons that a research-project was planned around the central problem which had to be investigated: does a lack of family individualization (in the traditional agrarian extended family) do harm to the health and the success in marriage of the younger couple which married into the family, and does this couple aspire to greater privacy and autonomy than they have?
The project was made possible by a generous grant from "Het Praeventiefonds".
In the area of Laren in which the two general practitioners work, there were 231 married couples who met the qualifying conditions: that they were agrarians (on a farm of at least 3 hectare = 7½ acres) and had at least one child under 19 years of age living with them.
Most information was obtained by an inquiry, which had to take place in one day, since it was necessary that the purport of the questionnaire should not be talked about before it was filled in by everyone.
Measuring success in marriage implied a method of inquiry by which both partners answered the same questions without consulting each other (actually, they did not know they answered the same questions). Later it was possible, by comparing the results of the partners, to measure the factors constituting their success in marriage: were they harmonious with relation to the item, had there been previous communication about the item, and, if so, what was the nature of it (i.e., did they have the same opinion and did they know it) and finally, was there a certain amount of tension between the partners in relation to the item.
As the most important matters for a marriage were considered: the affective aspect of the marital relationship, sexuality, the spending of one's spare time, economy, one's professional life, the rearing of the children, the relation with the outside world, individuality and socialization.
The health of the partners was measured by two sets of questions in the questionnaire: one for physical health and one for mental health (the latter questions primarily measured neurotic instability). Only three persons suffered from slight non-neurotic psychic conditions.
Secondly, the general practitioners gave their impressions of the health of the participants following a so-called A-P-scheme.
Of the 231 married couples available, 226 participated. Of these, 51 couples were living in a nuclear family, 28 in a partially individualized family, living in their own part of the farm-house under the same roof as the older generation (a group for comparison with both others), and 147 couples lived in extended families: so 23% came from nuclear families, 12% from partially individualized families, and 65% came from the extended, non-individualized families.
Apart from questions about the actual situation in the household (number of persons, age, degree of family individualization, tasks of the members of the household, etc.), there were questions which were intended to measure the aspirations in the field of family individualization.
Next, the demographic data were compiled and analysed. One of the most interesting conclusions came from these data: the older generation lives so much longer than a hundred years ago that the oldest son, if married at an average age of 28 years, will live together with his parents for 15-16 years (1870: 1 year with the father and 6 years with the mother).
Statistical analysis of the data resulting from the questionnaire proves the following relation to be true: marriage partners with a good mental health have more successful marriages than partners with a poorer mental health.
Kooy (1969) proved this to be true for 620 married couples in the Netherlands. Many partners in the wider families wish for themselves more family individualization, and for their children they wish family individualization to a high degree in a percentage of about 96%.
But these high aspirations do not cause such frustrations that health and success in marriage of the younger in-married generation in the extended family is worse than in the more individualized families. The over-all result is that the health and the success in marriage of these 226 couples is absolutely not less than in the Netherlands as a whole.
For the general practitioner it is a disappointment that there is no correlation between his judgement of the mental health of the participants and their own opinion about it (general practitioners and respondents do not disagree about the physical health). However, for the doctor this should be a reason to re-analyse his judgements: to improve his diagnosis, it may be necessary for him to make use of the personality questions of this investigation.
Other reasons for this lack of correlation may be of importance: the patient with a psycho-social problem may not feel or be (psychologically) ill: his symptoms may be a positive defence against a social situation. And: the doctor may include in his judgement other factors of mental health which were not tracked by the list of questions, e.g., past illness and non-neurotic disturbances.
Meanwhile the general practitioner is confronted with families where the extended family- structure gives problems to the people concerned, resulting in frequent consultations with or without disturbances of health.
The older generation does not want to leave the farm, the younger generation cannot leave the farm. The economic situation is not ample enough to permit an extra (new) house on the farm; for farms smaller than 15 hectares (37 acres) this is legally not even allowed.
Their only solution is to rebuild the farm-house for separate habitation: partial family individualization, a not ideal solution, where the two families are still very near to each other.
The results of this investigation give no reason to the general practitioner to advise every young couple, married or marrying into an extended family, to live separately from the older generation. Only where trouble ensues should the advice be: separate the extended family into the individual parts.
How long will the extended family in Laren exist? Of the respondents of the questionnaire, 96% answered that for their children they wished a high degree of family individualization. These children will be marrying within the next 25 years. Will they all have nuclear families then? Or will some of them wish to stay with their parents, like the girls in Bethnal Green? (Young and Wilmott).