Population and Environment

, Volume 36, Issue 1, pp 73–84 | Cite as

Long-term dynamics of household size and their environmental implications

Original Paper


Little is known about the environmental implications of long-term historical trends in household size. This paper presents the first historical assessment of global shifts in average household size based on a variety of datasets covering the period 1600–2000. Findings reveal that developed nations reached a threshold in 1893 when average household size began to drop rapidly from approximately 5.0 to 2.5. A similar threshold was reached in developing nations in 1987. With the notable exceptions of Ireland, and England and Wales in the early 1800s, and India and the Seychelles in the late 1900s, the number of households grew faster than population size in every country and every time period. These findings suggest accommodating housing may continue to pose one of the greatest environmental challenges of the twenty-first century because the impacts of increased housing present a threat to sustainability even when population growth slows. Future research addressing environmental impacts of declining household size could use an adapted IPAT model, I = PHoG: where environmental impact (I) = population × personal goods (P) + households × household goods (HoG).


Conservation biology Environmental impact Household size IPHoG Population Sustainable development 

Supplementary material

11111_2014_203_MOESM1_ESM.doc (248 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 247 kb)


  1. Allen, S. C., Moorman, C. E., Peterson, M. N., Hess, G. R., & Moore, S. E. (2012). Overcoming socio-economic barriers to conservation subdivisions: A case-study of four successful communities. Landscape and Urban Planning, 106(3), 244–252.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. An, L., Liu, J., Ouyang, Z., Linderman, M., Zhou, S., & Zhang, H. (2001). Simulating demographic and socioeconomic processes on household level and implications for giant panda habitats. Ecological Modelling, 140(1–2), 31–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bearer, S., Linderman, M., Huang, J., An, L., He, G., & Liu, J. (2008). Effects of fuelwood collection and timber harvesting on giant panda habitat use. Biological Conservation, 141(2), 385–393.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Beresford, J. C., & Rivlin, A. M. (1966). Privacy, poverty, and old age. Demography, 3(1), 247–258.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bongaarts, J. (2001). Household size and composition in the developing world in the 1990s. Population Studies—A Journal of Demography, 55(3), 263–279.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Burch, T. K. (1967). Size and structure of families—Comparative analysis of census data. American Sociological Review, 32(3), 347–363.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Burch, T. K., & Matthews, B. J. (1987). Household formation in developed societies. Population and Development Review, 13, 495–511.Google Scholar
  8. Chen, X., Lupi, F., Vina, A., He, G., & Liu, J. (2010). Using cost-effective targeting to enhance the efficiency of conservation investments in payments for ecosystem services. Conservation Biology, 24(6), 1469–1478.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Clinecole, R. A., Main, H. A. C., & Nichol, J. E. (1990). On fuelwood consumption, population-dynamics and deforestation in Africa. World Development, 18(4), 513–527.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Davies, R. B. (1987). Hypothesis testing when a nuisance parameter is present only under the alternative. Biometrika, 74, 33–43.Google Scholar
  11. de Sherbinin, A. (1998). Water and population dynamics: local approaches to a global problem. In V. D. Alex de Sherbinin, L. Bromley (Eds.), Water and population dynamics: Case studies and policy implications. Report of a workshop, October 1996: Montreal, Canada. Washington D.C.: American Association for the Advancement of Science.Google Scholar
  12. Dietz, T., Gardner, G. T., Gilligan, J., Stern, P. C., & Vandenbergh, M. P. (2009). Household actions can provide a behavioral wedge to rapidly reduce US carbon emissions. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106(44), 18452–18456.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Donnelly, J. S. (2001). The great Irish potato famine. Stroud, Gloucestershire: Sutton Pub Ltd.Google Scholar
  14. Ehrlich, P. R., & Holdren, J. P. (1971). Impact of population growth. Science, 171, 1212–1217.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Frankel, D., & Webb, J. M. (2001). Population, households, and ceramic consumption in a prehistoric Cypriot village. Journal of Field Archaeology, 28(1–2), 115–129.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Furstenberg, F. F., & Cherlin, A. J. (1991). Divided families: What happens to children when parents part (Vol. 1). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Goode, W. J. (1963). World revolution and family patterns. New York: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  18. He, G., Chen, X., Liu, W., Bearer, S., Zhou, S., Cheng, L. Y., et al. (2008). Distribution of economic benefits from ecotourism: A case study of Wolong Nature Reserve for Giant Pandas in China. Environmental Management, 42(6), 1017–1025.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Kasarda, J. D., & Crenshaw, E. M. (1991). Third world urbanization: Dimensions, theories, and determinants. Annual Review of Sociology, 467–501.Google Scholar
  20. Keilman, N. (2003). Biodiversity: The threat of small households. Nature, 421(6922), 489–490.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Klinenberg, E. (2012). Going solo: The extraordinary rise and surprising appeal of living alone. Penguin Press.Google Scholar
  22. Laslett, P. (1974). Mean household size in England since the sixteenth century. In P. Laslett (Ed.), Household and family in past time. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Latour, B. (2004). Politics of nature: How to bring the sciences into democracy (trans: Porter, C.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Lepczyk, C. A., Flather, C. H., Radeloff, V. C., Pidgeon, A. M., Hammer, R. B., & Liu, J. (2008). Human impacts on regional avian diversity and abundance. Conservation Biology, 22(2), 405–416.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Liao, T. F. T. (2001). Were past Chinese families complex? Household structures during the Tang Dynasty, 618–907 AD. Continuity and Change, 16, 331–355.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Liddle, B. (2004). Demographic dynamics and per capita environmental impact: Using panel regressions and household decompositions to examine population and transport. Population and Environment, 26(1), 23–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Linderman, M. A., An, L., Bearer, S., He, G. M., Ouyang, Z. Y., & Liu, J. G. (2005). Modeling the spatio-temporal dynamics and interactions of households, landscapes, and giant panda habitat. Ecological Modelling, 183(1), 47–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Liu, J. G. (2013). Effects of global household proliferation on ecosystem services. In B. Fu & B. Jones (Eds.), Landscape ecology for sustainable environment and culture (pp. 103–118). Springer.Google Scholar
  29. Liu, J. G., Daily, G. C., Ehrlich, P. R., & Luck, G. W. (2003). Effects of household dynamics on resource consumption and biodiversity. Nature, 421(6922), 530–533.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Liu, J. G., & Diamond, J. (2005). China’s environment in a globalizing world. Nature, 435(7046), 1179–1186.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. MacKellar, F. L., Lutz, W., Prinz, C., & Goujon, A. (1995). Population, households, and CO2 emissions. Population and Development Review, 21(4), 849–865.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Malthus, T. R. ([1798] 1970). An essay on the principle of population and a summary view of the principle of population. Harmondsworth: Penguin.Google Scholar
  33. Muggeo, V. M. R. (2008). Segmented: An R package to fit regression models with broken-line relationships. Using Sweave with LyX, 20.Google Scholar
  34. National Association of Home Builders. (2004). Housing facts, figures and trends 2004: NAHB Advocacy/Public Affairs in cooperation with the NAHB Economics Group.Google Scholar
  35. Pachauri, S. (2007). An energy analysis of household consumption: Changing patterns of direct and indirect use in India (Vol. 13): Springer.Google Scholar
  36. Peterson, M. N., Peterson, T. R., & Liu, J. (2013). The housing bomb: Why our addiction to houses is destroying the environment and threatening our society. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins.Google Scholar
  37. Peterson, M. N., Peterson, M. J., Peterson, T. R., & Liu, J. G. (2007). A household perspective for biodiversity conservation. Journal of Wildlife Management, 71(4), 1243–1248. doi:10.2193/2006-207.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Ruggles, S., & Brower, S. (2003). Measurement of household and family composition in the United States, 1850–2000. Population and Development Review, 29(1), 73–101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Salcedo, A., Schoellman, T., & Tertilt, M. (2012). Families as roommates: Changes in US household size from 1850 to 2000. Quantitative Economics, 3(1), 133–175.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Soule, D. C. (2006). Urban sprawl: A comprehensive reference guide. Westport, CT: Greenwood Pub Group.Google Scholar
  41. Thompson, K., & Jones, A. (1999). Human population density and prediction of local plant extinction in Britain. Conservation Biology, 13(1), 185–189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. United Nations Human Settlements Programme. (2007). Enhancing urban safety and security: Global report on human settlements 2007: Earthscan.Google Scholar
  43. United Nations Population Division. (2005). Living arrangements of older persons around the world: United Nations.Google Scholar
  44. Wood, S. N. (2001). Minimizing model fitting objectives that contain spurious local minima by bootstrap restarting. Biometrics, 57, 240–244.Google Scholar
  45. Wolman, M. G. (Ed.). (2001). Growing populations, changing landscapes: Studies from India, China, and the United States. Washington D.C.: National Academy Press.Google Scholar
  46. World Bank. (2012). World Development Indicators.Google Scholar
  47. World Population Prospects: The 2008 Revision. (2008). United Nations, New York.Google Scholar
  48. Yu, E., & Liu, J. (2007). Environmental impacts of divorce. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 104(51), 20629–20634.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mason Bradbury
    • 1
    • 2
  • M. Nils Peterson
    • 3
  • Jianguo Liu
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, Center for Systems Integration and SustainabilityMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  2. 2.Department of Society and ConservationUniversity of MontanaMissoulaUSA
  3. 3.Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology ProgramNorth Carolina State UniversityRaleighUSA

Personalised recommendations