In the nineteenth century, when the Industrial Revolution gave birth to impressive entrepreneurial dynasties, the rise of professionalism laid the foundation for the emergence to prominence of another social segment, that of professionals. At the same time, education was instituted as an increasingly important determinant of status, according to the hierarchically ordered system of educational institutions. The highest status was conferred on the learned, that is, those who had completed a university degree. Crucially, a university degree became a requirement for entry into more and more offices in state governance, providing excellent opportunities for commoners to upgrade their status. The two groups I took as my examples were clerics and professors: the former represent the older uppermost rank of the learned, the latter the more recent representative of that rank.

The clergy seemed to follow the same trajectories as royalty and the nobility, the central statuses of the old regime. All of them created dynasties, even clerical families, though ecclesiastical offices were not hereditary. Even so the clerical profession ran in the family for generations, in old clerical families up to the nineteenth century. Sons of old clerical families moved in large numbers to non-clerical professions in the nineteenth century, at the same time as noblemen transferred from their traditional occupations to new ones—in fact to the very same occupations that the clergymen’s sons chose to pursue. But before that, during their heyday they created their careers and contracted marriages in a very dynastic way: the succession of the priesthood in several successive generations and marriages to priests or their daughters made them clerical families, if not necessarily proper dynasties.

The internal coherence of the clerical marriage market—just as the exclusiveness of the marriage markets of royalty and the nobility—contributed to a relatively large number of cousin marriages. But it also increased singlehood, not for priests but for their brothers who chose to pursue other occupations. The clerical marriage market consisted in large part of a network of father’s colleagues and sons’ fellow students of theology. Non-clerical sons might well have felt out of place in this homogeneous network, but it was certainly not easy for them to plunge into some other marriage market at the time when spouses were usually found in the family circle and in a clan where this practice had long been followed. Daughters of old clerical families had an analogous problem: they were under intense pressure to find a cleric-husband, and if this was not possible, it was better to remain unmarried. It was not only at the pinnacle of power then that socially restricted marriage markets developed, but the same happened in slightly lower ranks as well, in our case among parish priests who were bound to their being part of the clergy, an Estate and a central component of the old regime.

One way out and up from the priesthood led to the professoriate, a route of recruitment that had been the clergy’s privilege from the seventeenth through to the nineteenth century—professors were typically priests’ sons. The rise of professionalism in the nineteenth century widened the social scope of recruitment, but not beyond upper- and middleranking families. The first dramatic change was the virtual disappearance of clergymen’s sons from professors’ family backgrounds during the twentieth century. Another radical change came in the 1960s and 1970s when first the share of farmers’ children and then the share of workers’ children in the professoriate increased to almost one-fifth apiece. Similar tendencies were seen in other European countries as well. In the end it seemed that societies had properly opened up: family background did not count for much in academia.

This is not, however, the whole story. An examination of whom professors married creates a rather different picture. From the seventeenth century on, professors have married women from a higher social background than their own. In the nineteenth century this upward tendency was crowned with marriages into noble families and with their own ennoblements. Thus, professors came to be a similar upwardly status group as entrepreneurial dynasties, testing their status equivalence with the nobility by marriages. Marriages to farmers and workers, by contrast, have remained very rare up to the present day, although at one point almost 40 per cent of professors were farmers’ or workers’ children. A vast majority of professors married their approximate social equals, learned professionals, but the situation is very different for identical status equivalence. The gender difference is particularly interesting: only a tiny minority of male professors married female professors, but one-third of female professors married male professors. When docents—nowadays in English adjunct professors—and other doctoral-level researchers are taken into account the share of academia is higher, close to one-fifth for male professors and one-half for female professors. Academia, this small world of its own, limits networking to its own inner circle—a good foundation for an exclusive marriage market.

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