Despite decades of sweeping socioeconomic and cultural transformations, extended households remain widespread in many regions of the world. The mechanisms explaining this persistence are not well-established. The research reported on here investigates these mechanisms in India, where the prevalence of stem and joint households ranks among the highest in the world. Combining demographic and ethnographic data, this study compares processes of household change in two villages in India's Deccan Plateau. Results highlight key pathways by which development can contribute to both the decline and persistence of joint households. In the first village, joint households have become virtually extinct in recent years. Analyses suggest that frequent labor migrations, depopulation, and slow economic growth largely explain this decline. In the second village, there was a recent increase in the prevalence of joint households. The expansion of irrigation created economic opportunities in farming and other industries. Many young men now jointly invest in land with their father and brother(s) instead of purchasing separate houses. This suggests that agricultural improvements and the revitalization of the village economy have stimulated the formation of joint households. In both villages, ethnographic data reveal the ambivalent preferences and practical considerations underpinning residential decisions.
Published in a peer-reviewed journal of the Population Council.