The Historical Sample of the Netherlands (HSN) strives to construct life histories as completely as possible for a representative portion of the nineteenth and twentieth century population in The Netherlands. The sample, for this purpose, has been drawn from all persons born in The Netherlands between 1812 and 1922. Ultimately, the HSN database will include information on an individual level from 77,000 persons on subjects like age at marriage, religious affiliation, the number of children born, occupation, birth place, literacy, social network and migration history.
With these characteristics, the data set will form a basic resource for research into historical questions concerning problems in the areas of demography, sociology, epidemiology, socio economics and social geography. The importance of the HSN for the researcher is fourfold:
- The HSN provides a representative dataset with which research can be done into social developments in the 19th and 20th centuries.
- The HSN provides a control group or groups which researchers can compare with their own research population.
- The HSN is developing the expertise which individual researchers usually cannot acquire in the limited time at their disposal.
- The HSN offers the possibility for researchers to use the existing HSN dataset as base for their own research projects.
Of course, this cuts both ways. Every researcher who wants to use the infrastructure and data of the HSN must agree that in return he or she will deliver his or her data to the central database, in accordance with the formal structure of this database. This way a data centre will be developed which will function as a centre for quantitative research on life courses.
There are comparable projects outside the Netherlands, notably in Québec and Sweden, which in the last twenty years have collected an enormous amount of data. The Dutch data file is distinguished from such foreign examples by the fact that we use a random sample design and that research takes place on a national in stead of a regional level. If extra data are necessary for certain research projects, they can be collected by the researchers themselves. Not entering the entire population into one database is practical and theoretically justified.
A sample of one of every two hundred births will result in a database with a total of 80,000 main entries. Taking into account a loss of data of about 40%, mainly because of early deaths (about one-third) and migration, this is statistically sufficient to make significant statements on substrata which cover only 2% of the sample; in absolute numbers this is a substratum of about 1000 people.
The value of the database lies, of course, in the scientific use that is made of it. In addition to this, the database can be used to construct tables of statistical information on a large number of topics. The following are a few examples of possible uses of the database:
On the basis of the sample, it is possible to reconstruct the social structure of the Netherlands for at least the period between 1870 and 1940. By means of a system of adding and subtracting, it is possible to profile the social structure for each separate year. The same system can be applied to occupations for a reconstruction of the occupational structure. What is actually simulated in this way, is a national census for each year.
More difficult, but not impossible, is extending this reconstruction back to around 1850. The database includes data on occupation and income, not only of each person included in the sample, but of his or her father as well. This will make it possible to construct a great number of tables on inter- and intra-generational social mobility. In addition, the information from the certificates of marriage will enable investigators to construct tables on marriage mobility as well.
Enlargement of the database with data on the children of the 'respondents' included, will make it possible to create tables for mobility over three generations. On the basis of information from marriage certificates, it will even be possible to create mobility tables for five to six generations covering the period 1780 to 1940, a period of more than 150 years.
It will be possible to study regional and social differences in death rates, including epidemical research, etc.
The fact that subjects are followed after their migration to other locations will make it possible to do research in migration patterns, the so-called industrial revolution, the development of cities etc.