Young marriage isn’t very traditional

It’s a prosperity artifact that has occurred in a handful of short-lived bursts of prosperity and then things go back to normal.  It is a fine thing to support and encourage as a conservative, but it can’t be advocated in a vacuum that presumes it is a historical norm.  The historical norm is to marry when it’s affordable, which was usually not when the girl was sixteen and the guy eighteen.  It was gasp when the girl was in her mid-20s and the guy a little older.

Funny how it’s now sooooo impossible for guys to wait until their mid-20s to marry for life and girls are dooming themselves to a river of cats and despair if they wait until after age 22 but in reality-land, it was always perfectly traditional and people found ways to deal with the lack of sex until marriage.  This mostly consisted of not having sex.  Shocking, I know.  It’s quite interesting that conservatives and liberals come together as one voice to declare that continence is impossible for humans, simply can’t be done, can’t expect it of anyone, so don’t even try.

The truth is that young marriage, if truly widespread, carries with it a higher risk of dissolution even when divorce isn’t “easy”.  All are not called to marry and conservatives really need to get back to accepting that reality and recognize just how much social pressure is necessary to prop up widespread marriage of young couples who are not necessarily fit for the institution.

Marriage is a social good, but you can have a society where 40-60% of people marry and you can have one where 75-85% of people marry, but the latter will have certain instabilities despite all the marriage that the former will not.  With the current economic and social turmoil and relentless promotion of abnormal things as normal, it’s difficult to understand the push for young marriage with no real social support or financial/economic support by conservatives all along the right-wing spectrum, from mainstream to odd internet subculture.

Marriage is traditional.  Young marriage is a nice to have, not a requirement for a normal society.

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21 thoughts on “Young marriage isn’t very traditional

  1. Exactly. In some times of economic hardship, marriage ages rose to late 20s. The other myth going round is that it’s traditional for women to marry much older men – usually floated by men who would like to convince young women to marry them. In fact, a maximum difference of about 5 years has been historically normal for first marriages. Things were different for second marriages, where a widower might marry a younger and otherwise less desirable woman, to have someone to take care of the first wife’s children. Or where aristocrats were making strategic alliances.

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  2. I think it’s hard to put numbers on this.

    My impression is that Catholic countries and rural areas married younger, regardless of whether they could afford it or not.

    Also, at least in medieval Europe, a lot of men were effectively forced to take vows of celibacy- which were enforced for life, even if they later accumulated enough money to support a wife. In some other areas, such as Asia, some men were castrated.

    But if we’re going to claim “a difference of 5 years was the norm,” we probably won’t convince anyone unless we have historical sources to cite.

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    • The people who talk about young marriage as a norm don’t cite a darned thing themselves. At best they refer casually to the unusually low age of marriage in the 1950s as though this very brief period of time= all Western history.

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      • http://womenofhistory.blogspot.tw/2007/08/medieval-marriage-childbirth.html

        cites Herlihy.

        Another source that I see a lot is the USA census.

        http://marriage.about.com/od/statistics/a/medianage.htm

        That page isn’t the most complete, but it’s more convenient than the bulky PDFs that can take a long time to load.

        Most manospherians I read are pretty quantitatively oriented and like to cite sources when possible.

        If a lack of historical demographics is the only problem, I can call up a historian friend of mine.

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        • Ok, so both those links pretty much just bolster my post. They sure don’t “debunk” it.

          Manospherians like to “cite” from the same small pool of links, at best. This isn’t a monograph, it’s a blog, and I make posts based on my reading of print materials, my own online data mining skills and anecdata where that’s what is available, not recycled links that consist of hazily recalled thirdhand interpretations of a single study done forty years ago.

          The first link is quite interesting, so there’s that.

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  3. It’s quite interesting that conservatives and liberals come together as one voice to declare that continence is impossible for humans, simply can’t be done, can’t expect it of anyone, so don’t even try.

    Yes, This. I agree so much, wouldn’t know what to add.

    I too have found that mid-20’s marriage was the traditional norm as well as an age gap of between 2-6 years being the traditional norm.

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  4. But if we’re going to claim “a difference of 5 years was the norm,” we probably won’t convince anyone unless we have historical sources to cite.

    I actually looked it up, that age difference thing. I don’t have all the links nor the time to hunt them down right now, but it really is true that as the norm (aside from royalty and the very elite) the age difference between husband and wife was traditionally between 2 and 6 years.

    As to the original post, I am on the record as being heartily in support of younger marriage rather than waiting. I was 22 when I married. My husband was 20. We’ve had a great marriage and have every reason to believe that young marriage can be advantageous to husband and wife alike.

    But that doesn’t change the fact that mid-20’s was the traditional norm, and the fact that we are breeding a generation of young people (Christians I mean) who aren’t suited to marrying anyone until their mid to late 20’s (I am assuming chasteness in the interim), we need to be careful about setting arbitrary rules like, “Women need to be married by the time their 23 or they’ve waited too late.”

    It’s the absoluteness that bothers me even though I am in general agreement.

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    • >I actually looked it up, that age difference thing. I don’t have all the links nor the time to hunt them down right now, but it really is true that as the norm (aside from royalty and the very elite) the age difference between husband and wife was traditionally between 2 and 6 years.

      Well, if no one in the blogosphere has the time to write down citations, I really will have to call up my historian friend.

      I hope we all agree on the importance of looking at all races, not just Europe. Varying levels of information from different geographical regions make this quite a challenge.

      I often note that historians write about the medical symptoms of medieval folk without understanding much of modern medical science. In the lengthy quote below, for example, there is no discussion of how medieval nutrition and phenotypical changes might have affected menstruation.

      I would argue that the variation in phenotypes between generations of the same gene pool must be quantitatively significant. Unfortunately I can only support this with relatively recent data, most of it from the 20th century.

      Consider the following claim from the medieval history blog cited earlier:

      Puberty (and thus menstruation / periods) usually takes place between the ages of 10yo and 16yo.
      “Most girls start their first periods at about 12 or 13; however some girls may have periods by the age of 8 and still others may not have a period until they are 14 or 15.”(Source: About Women’s Health).

      If modern girls of 8 go through menarche, would not any modern physician suspect endocrine disruption due to modern pollutants? Thus – in the absence of other data – a historian ought to reject this outlier point when estimating menarche onset in medieval populations.

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  5. I should preface my comment by saying that I found this blog via Denise’s blog.

    You are correct about economics playing a role in the age of first marriage. Here is a link to a resource that talks about economics and marriage in Europe:

    http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=5&cad=rja&ved=0CEkQFjAE&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.researchgate.net%2Fpublication%2F222836554_The_Western_European_marriage_pattern_and_economic_development%2Ffile%2F9fcfd508be2c8d7e4f.pdf&ei=2C4NU7H0N4n0oASmyIGYBA&usg=AFQjCNH2ai5jprnPjNqRNLu-nTFCNFuo4g&sig2=wHnvDiddsqbQo4Fn__GkCA&bvm=bv.61725948,d.cGU

    Unfortunately, most of the best resources are behind paywalls or academic barriers of some sort. Or I simply haven’t found free access links yet.

    And here is the US Census data from 1890-2010
    http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0005061.html

    Different demographic groups tends to marry at different ages, with SES being a major determinant.

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  6. Funny how it’s now sooooo impossible for guys to wait until their mid-20s to marry for life and girls are dooming themselves to a river of cats and despair if they wait until after age 22 but in reality-land, it was always perfectly traditional and people found ways to deal with the lack of sex until marriage. This mostly consisted of not having sex. Shocking, I know. It’s quite interesting that conservatives and liberals come together as one voice to declare that continence is impossible for humans, simply can’t be done, can’t expect it of anyone, so don’t even try.

    I will try and find a way to put this respectfully, but you are simply wrong here. For women this was mostly the case. They largely avoided sex until marriage, in part because of the costs that were associated with it. The same was not true for men. Prostitution was far and away more common back then, and far more accepted. Indeed, it was consider abnormal for unmarried men to not visit prostitutes. That is how society dealt with things for centuries. The ugly truth is that continence, at least from men, is and was very rare.This The exceptions to this tended be found in the rural areas, where there was usually less prostitution and also a lower age of first marriage (although not universally).

    I should also point out that women were largely kept at home before they were married. Rare it was for women to venture out into the world, unless they came from the very poorest of families. If we want to talk about what was traditional we should keep that in mind as well.

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    • Eh, yes and no. You are committing the “six prostitutes to hundreds of men” error. Depending on the historical era, up to 40% of women did a little time renting their favors whether they eventually married or not. But even given that, years-long celibacy outside of the cloistered life was not unusual at all for both men and women, as the spheres were typically more segregated.

      Women being “largely kept at home” means something very different when the home is a primary area of life, with frequent contact with the outside world. You forget that in many traditional societies, the world and the home *were part of the same sphere*. There isn’t one tradition, there are many even with the filter of Christian patriarchy, and people should certainly seek to learn and understand more about the specific ethnic and cultural traditions their ancestors hail from.

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      • @ the unreal woman

        I’ve never actually heard of that “six prostitutes to hundreds of men” error before, Please explain.

        I’m curious about your sources for information on celibacy. While it may have been more true than not for women, my understanding is that it has never really been common for most men in most societies.

        Segregation between the sexes was certainly far more common back then, and I think that is something we should keep in mind today. It greatly aided in helping to promote what celibacy did exist. Since it doesn’t really exist anymore, we need to take it into account in order to consider how to promote continence.

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        • You claim on the one hand that prostitutes flowed freely for all men, regardless of ability to afford one (here’s a hint: most men couldn’t afford one) and on the other hand that all women were locked up all day in the house with no freedom of movement. Choose your poison.

          Freedom of movement was not something most people could come by (forced wandering is not “freedom of movement”) until relatively recently in human history. Also until relatively recently, home was where people partied and all that kind of fun social thing. The Bennett sisters had plenty of social activity despite being “at home”, to whip a pretty dead horse of an example (as it appears to be what conservatives have in reading-common these days). And even through some of the 20th century, that was still true to some extent.

          Yes, the spheres are less segregated today, but that’s not unfixable.

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    • >Prostitution was far and away more common back then, and far more accepted. Indeed, it was consider abnormal for unmarried men to not visit prostitutes. That is how society dealt with things for centuries. The ugly truth is that continence, at least from men, is and was very rare.

      When you say “society,” do you mean “English society”? Are you just referring to Europe? Do you have a specific time period in mind? Do you have some history books I could look at so that I could check your sources?

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      • @ zhai2nan2

        I meant Western European society. Time period wise, most anything from the fall of Rome to the industrial era would apply.

        Unfortunately, its been some time since I studied on the subject. And most of my studies were focused on the US, not Europe. This means that I’ve forgotten the names of most of those books (I think I still have some, let me see if I can find where I stored them). I can suggest City of Eros for a take on prostitution, among other things, in New York before 1920 or so.

        Also, most of the best reads on the subject are in academic journals, and behind paywalls (not so much in books).

        One thing I remember is that prostitution was far more common in the cities than in rural areas (where, IIRC, people tended to marry younger).

        As for acceptance, both Augustine and Aquinas argued that prostitution shouldn’t be made illegal. While they didn’t like it, they felt that making it illegal would only exacerbate social tensions. So it was the case that in much of Europe, for most of the time, prostitution was legal. Certainly it was never considered respectable, although governments sure liked to tax it.

        I will see if I can find any others.

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        • I recently found this paper:
          http://myweb.dal.ca/mgoodyea/Documents/History/Prostitution%20in%20the%20medieval%20canon%20law%20Brundage%20Signs%201976%201(4)%20825.pdf

          It is good as far as it goes, and it contains pithy summaries such as:

          If whores abounded everywhere in medieval Europe-and the available evidence strongly suggests that they did-one problem which faced public authorities was how to distinguish them visibly and clearly from respectable women. The canonists tended to think that distinctive dress was the best solution to the problem.

          the woman who fell into a life of prostitution was not overtly punished by harshly repressive measures, while men who frequented prostitutes were subject to more numerous and more severe punishments than were the ladies of joy whom they patronized.

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          • It is interesting, but it only covers a couple of centuries and doesn’t cite much in the way of hard data, just anecdotal allusions. But then, past a certain point, there isn’t always going to be hard data, especially for the intimate parts of life.

            I also appear to have previously encountered this document, according to my computer’s notification when I tried to save a copy.

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  7. I didn’t realize that young marriages weren’t the norm traditionally. You learn something new every day. I had to delete my blog This, Our Task… which you were following. I do have a new blog with a slightly different, yet similar focus if you would like to follow. http://www.thesinceregift.wordpress.com

    You don’t have to publish this comment. I just wanted to give you a heads up about my old blog.

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  8. @ zhai2nan2:

    I have to agree with The Unreal Woman that your links bolster her post as much as they offer any points that debunk it. The medieval links pretty much shore up what I said: when you get away from the elites and nobility, marriage was a bit later, early 20’s to early mid-20’s.

    The second link from the Census certainly supports that most marriages took place in the early 20’s, but no one here is arguing that marriage in the early 20’s is bad if for not other reason than women are most fertile and energetic then.

    But note that the average age gap between men and women marrying is not highly disparate, either. Again, that was mainly something that occurred among royalty/nobility.

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  9. I do agree with you here, but there is something we need to be honest about:

    Funny how it’s now sooooo impossible for guys to wait until their mid-20s to marry for life and girls are dooming themselves to a river of cats and despair if they wait until after age 22 but in reality-land, it was always perfectly traditional and people found ways to deal with the lack of sex until marriage. This mostly consisted of not having sex. Shocking, I know.

    The reason why it seems impossible for people to deal with the lack of sex before marriage is because we haven’t taught young women and men how to behave properly around each other. I’ll admit it, it really does seem like a miracle to ask a lot of young men to be remain chaste until their mid-20’s. I have only met ONE who was able to do so.

    Young marriage is seen as the antidote against premarital sex. Even in devout Christian families, there are young people finding ways to have sex outside of marriage despite living at home for a long time and regular church attendance. So what gives?

    Although I have no hard evidence to back this up, I don’t think most Christians know what it means to be chaste. St. Paul instructs us to treat the opposite sex as we’d treat our own brothers and sisters but sexuality is so compartmentalized no one would know where to begin. We’re afraid to have teenagers hang around each other even when supervised lest they start making out in the open. We function under the assumption that people cannot control themselves, and this is the basis for why we promote what we do. We say if there are two 20 year olds who are hot for each other, it means they must get married even if they aren’t GOOD for each other to prevent an instance of premarital sex.

    Young marriage is encouraged and advertised as the traditional thing to do because it prevents young women from becoming whores and it provides men with young wives who haven’t been tainted. A lot of people will be skeptical towards the idea of meeting a woman at 25 who is still a virgin and has only had a couple of boyfriends, or a male in the same boat. People just aren’t buying it, and why should they?

    People aged 18-30 are expected to “live their lives” which means lots of fun. This fun can range from drunken stupidity, frequenting clubs, and of course, sex. Most traditional Christians aren’t going to be interested in marrying someone who’s BTDT when it comes to these things because it means they’ve had “experience.” The best way to meet someone who isn’t “experienced”? Marry young.

    Now the question is, what are we going to do to help people find ways to deal with the lack of sex? Do we practice forms of sex segregation? Is that realistic? How are we going to get young people to be able to commingle AND teach them the best place to express sexuality is in marriage?

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