© Lindsay Soll 2003

The History of Marriage

According to Encarta , Marriage is "a socially recognized and approved union between individuals, who commit to one another with the expectation of a stable and lasting intimate relationship."

It begins with a ceremony known as a wedding. A marriage usually involves some kind of contract, either written or specified by tradition, which outlines the partners’ rights and obligations to each other, to any children they may have, and to their relatives. In most modern societies, marriage is certified by the government.

The main pattern of marriage in the United States is based on those of the countries in northwestern Europe that were the main sources of immigration.

Historically this European marriage pattern has included a relatively late age of marriage, a large proportion of people remaining single and an emphasis on the nuclear family (which includes a husband, wife and children).However, during the 20th century, marriage and family arrangements became increasingly diverse.

At the visible upper levels of society, most marriages during the early 1900s were pragmatic, involvingA bride and groom in the early 1900s considerations of property and family alliance. Aristocratic families could increase their wealth through a child’s marriage. Marriage was also used as a way of sealing peace between former enemies.

During the early decades of the twentieth century a sexual revolution took place. Premarital intercourse became more common, and this contributed to changing ideas about marriage. This new way of marriage promised individual gratification, with couples joined together by shared love and sexual attraction, not concepts of responsibility.

According to The History Channel, when the Great Depression hit the U.S., marriage rates plunged, and it became economically difficult for young people to form new households. "The marriage rate dropped almost 13 percent between 1930 and 1932, and by the end of the decade the average age at marriage had risen from 24.3 to 26.7 for men and from 21.3 to 23.3 for A man holds a young women women."

World War II brought economic resurgence but also fears about the future, and for both reasons, people married in extreme amounts. Marriage rates remained high through the 1950s, and the average age at marriage dropped. By 1959, 47 percent of all brides were under nineteen.

"The staging of weddings became a small industry, and marA bride and groom dance together riage was celebrated throughout popular culture," states The History Channel. "According to a 1957 poll, only 9 percent of Americans thought a single person could be happy. The ideal marriage was said to be a 'partnership,' centered around children and devoted to 'togetherness.'"

However, this celebration of marriage covered the many tensions over men's and women's roles within marriage. In the 1960s and 1970s, the women's movement began, and feminists began criticizing the institution. Then, yet another sexual revolution occurred, and the arrival of the birth-control pill weakened the relationship between sex and marriage. Average age at marriage began to rise again, and the divorce rate soared. Cohabitating couples (living together) became common, according to The History Channel.

Median age at first marriage:


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