Measuring Marriage by Estate and Class: A Debate

Patricia Seed, Philip F. Rust, Robert E McCaa, Stuart B. Schwartz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


The debate over estate and class continues to be one of the more enduring in colonial Latin American history. At its core lies an argument, much older than the terms estate and class, about the degree of rigidity of the colonial social structure. Evidence of this older concern can be found in the writings of Sergio Bagú (1952) and Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán (1946) among others. The formulation of the debate into more precise sociological terms originated with the publication of an article in 1963 by Lyle McAlister in the Hispanic American Historical Review entitled “Social Structure and Social Change in Colonial New Spain.” In that article McAlister characterized the social structure of Latin America on the eve of independence as shifting from inequality based on estates to a new system founded upon economic class. What McAlister sought to underline was the transition from a social structure with static, defined statuses to a more open system based upon property and wealth. Since then the terms class and estate have been utilized to signify relatively open or closed social structures. Magnus Mörner (1967), for example, argued that the emerging system of economic classes could be found in the rural areas, whereas the urban areas retained more of a static, closed quality. The dichotomy of estate and class has since been widely utilized to characterize Latin American social structure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)703-724
Number of pages22
JournalComparative Studies in Society and History
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1983


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