Wednesday, January 26, 2011

How young is too old?

Where did the widespread Mormon cultural imperative for (comparatively) young marriages come from? I mean, it’s not like terribly young marriages were the historical norm throughout human history and age of first marriage has just recently started to rise*—so it has to have started sometime. Did it get ported in from some other group? Is it of relatively recent vintage, at least among Mormons?** More interestingly (for me), why is it such a taken-for-granted thing nowadays?

* For example, according to Stephanie Coontz’s Marriage: A History, the median age of first marriage for women in England between 1500 and 1700 was 26.

** Looking at age of marriage for general authorities throughout church history, i actually do suspect it’s a relatively recent cultural development.


Heather the Mama Duk said...

Mommie was 19 and a day when they got married. She was Catholic. Jamie's grandmother (in England, nominally Church of England) was listed as a "spinster" on their marriage certificate. She was 26. She was also 3 months pregnant.

Most likely a lot of it is the weight placed on families and having children. If you want a lot of kids before you are 30, you need to be married around 20. Well, for girls anyway. Boys don't even get back from their missions until 21.

Around here there are some who married young, some who didn't. It's a mix and pretty much depends on when you find the right guy/girl.

I met Jamie when I'd've been in my senior year of high school had I not been homeschooled and already in college. That worked out pretty well for us ;-P

David B said...

Actually, i think that whether marrying young or not is a good thing or a bad thing depends entirely on the individuals involved—but what i’m questioning is why it’s such a widespread given in Mormon culture that marrying young is a good thing no matter the individuals involved. Consider the statement attributed to Brigham Young that “an unmarried man over thirty [twenty-seven, twenty-five, even twenty-one in some accounts] is a menace to his community”. (He actually never really said that or anything similar according to the records we have, but that doesn’t keep it from being mentioned over and over again). The vectoring of such attitudes has a cumulative cultural effect.

It was really bad when we lived in Utah County, but we’ve observed it elsewhere, too. Interestingly, i think that this is one of the ways where DC-area (mid-Atlantic, really) Mormons really are different—the whole everyone has to get married as soon as they can thing isn’t as strong there as elsewhere in the US. (For “in the US” here, read “where i’ve lived inthe US”: the mid-Atlantic, Florida, Alaska, Utah County.)