Why was the historical marriage age of women so much higher in Western European countries than the rest of the world?

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Generally it’s the cost of setting up a household and available employment opportunities (how economicly expansive a culture is), mortality and a few other factors. If you need a farmstead or to be a senior craftsman to support a family and there is limited farmland and an increasinly competitive market (and wages dropping compared to housing prices)…yes, marrying age will go up. There is a reason why for example US marrying age dropped like a rock during the early and mid 20th century and only bumped back to 1890 averages (26.1 years) in 1990…with the end of the economic boom, rising education costs and more competitive job market and increasing housing prices. The all-time low marrying age of 22.8 years (for males) in the 1950s and 1960s was primarily because young men and women had never had such well-paying jobs…and their ability to support a family was not tied to available farmland either.


I can only really speak about England, and the difficulty there is that 1500 to 1900 is a big period in which England underwent lots of social change, particularly during industrialisation. So these are all sweeping statements that you have to take with a pinch of salt. ​ >What was the reason that they waited until 25 years of age to marry, around 8-10 years later than the rest of the world? My understanding is that this was partly to do with the economy. Most people didn’t have the money to set up home at a young age. Apprenticeships were common for men, and most apprentices would be banned from marrying until their apprenticeship was over. Many women would go into domestic service in some form, and they would usually not be allowed to marry either. So that would bump up the age of first marriage. I have to say however that looking back at my own family history, which I do have some records for as far back as the 1700s, the average age for marriage seems to be around 21, 22 for both men and women. It makes me question that statistic because my family was very average and normal from what I can see. ​ >Were they expected to remain as virgins until that age? Technically yes. However people did have sexual relationships and out of wedlock birth was relatively common. >Did they usually help their families in the farm? If you have a look at the excellent series ‘Tudor Monastery Farm’, you can get a sense of what women of that period would have been expected to do. Yes they would have been expected to contribute to most elements of farm work. > Did they have land ownership rights? Really depends on the period as women’s rights varied. By default, it was mostly men who were expected to own land and expected to inherit from their parents. However women did sometimes own land, if it was specified in a will that they would. I would imagine that there were more widowed land owners than unmarried women land owners. Also, the vast majority of land was owned by the upper classes anyway.


In Shakespeare class, we were told that in many villages, the marriage age was higher during this time period in England because they had to wait for a priest to perform the marriage and sometimes they couldn’t afford to get married until later. In the first case, waiting for the official marriage, they would “post the bans” in the village square so everyone would know that they were getting married and then go ahead and start living together and perhaps having kids in a kind of common law situation. It was OK as long as the bans had been posted. I have not verified this info though—just repeating what I was told. The issue came up because of the reference to the phase “posting the bans” and the age listed for marriages at the time.


Economic/ materialistic comfort => lowers mortality => reduces life’s incentive for only procreation => no rush to settle down => later age of marriages.


I remember in a college class that addressed the surprisingly older age for marriage during this time (and the early American period) is that young people did not get married until they could set up their own household and/or were pregnant. Young people were expected to help their parents on the farm, be house servants to send money back to their families or for young men learn a trade in an apprenticeship. This would take a long time to set someone up financially for their own home. Often the young people would be waiting to inherit part of the farm/business or have their parents enter retirement so they could take over the farm. Engagements were long and there was kind of a common law marriage situation prior to church marriage where a couple was engaged but not yet married in the church. People would get married in the church largely when they were pregnant. There was a cost associated with a church marriage and people didn’t do that until it was necessary. Young couples my professor said would push their parents to help set them up in their home by getting pregnant. Sort of, okay, you’ve been saying we are going to take over the family business/farm for a number of years and we are going to force your hand now. This changed with industrialization. More young people going to cities, more movement in general. There’s a theory that the western tradition of engagement rings came from the industrialization. When couples were engaged in a lot of the west, they could engage in some sexual activity. When it was the pre-industrial period, couples would get engaged to people in their local community. So, if someone fell pregnant, you knew where to find that young man and how to pressure the family to assure the young folks would get church married and be set up for their future. When industrialization happened, you didn’t know the young man engaged to your daughter that well and with increased mobility, he could just up and leave without making good on his promise. So, you would need a sign that the young man was serious. The engagement ring illustrated that he was willing to invest a large sum into the relationship. Also, the young woman would have money to support herself if he did leave after breaking off the engagement because she could sell the ring. I’ve noticed in middle eastern/Asian societies a young woman will join the household of their in-laws and not necessarily have a home of their own. The in-laws support the young couple and the in-laws are the familial leaders. The idea of this is/was very different in the west. Especially with the Christian tenants around “leave and cleave” in especially Protestant marriage where one leaves the family home and becomes one with the spouse making their family of origin secondary to the marriage. Two different cultural standards.