Published online by Cambridge University Press: 04 January 2016
In agricultural settings, environment shapes patterns of settlement and land use. Using the Great Plains of the United States during the period of its initial Euro-American settlement (1880–1940) as an analytic lens, this article explores whether the same environmental factors that determine settlement timing and land use—those that indicate suitability for crop-based agriculture—also shape initial family formation, resulting in fewer and smaller families in areas that are more conducive to livestock raising than to cropping. The connection between family size and agricultural land availability is now well known, but the role of the environment has not previously been explicitly tested. Descriptive analysis offers initial support for a distinctive pattern of family formation in the western Great Plains, where precipitation is too low to support intensive cropping. However, multivariate analysis using county-level data at 10-year intervals offers only partial support to the hypothesis that environmental characteristics produce these differences. Rather, this analysis has found that the region was also subject to the same long-term social and demographic changes sweeping the rest of the country during this period.