Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Average age of first marriage among early Mormon women

Being very curious about how common young (for the woman) marriages were in the early (19th century) Mormon church I pulled up my own family history and started searching. While I knew of one in particular at age 12, I was surprised to find several 14 and 15 year olds as well. Even with this, the average was 21.1 years old. I created this graph showing the distribution by decade.

Curiously, I found that the average woman's age at first marriage dropped sharply in the 1870s and jumped up in the 1880’s. I was left with a puzzle to explain. Was my sample too small? Probably, I only have records of 112 marriages in the 19th century. But since this dip happened in the middle of the polygamous period, perhaps there is an explanation tied to this peculiar practice. Anyone have any suggestions?


Bruce Crow said...

As I read more about the polygamous period I am finding hints that as the 1880's came to a close fewer and fewer plural marriages were being approved. Presuming that an increase in plural marriages would require women to marry younger, a decrease in number of plural marriages would result in later first marriages. This may explain the curious shape of the graph. I know I could design a query to prove/disprove this. It is just a matter of getting the data.

Coffinberry said...

Your post made me wish for a non-Utah control comparison, so I (couldn't help myself!!) ran a similar test on folks in my genealogy database (which are members of four distinct lines: my own, my husband's, my stepfather's and my grandfather's teenage fiancee, who died--ending her line--shortly before they were to be married). Only women with a known marriage year between 1800 and 1899 were included (n=365), and of those, only those with a known birth year were entered into an Excel spreadsheet (n=218). I also entered the state in which the marriage took place.

Range = 14 to 34
Average overall = 20.8 years
Average 1800-1809 20.7
Average 1810-1819 21.4
Average 1820-1829 21.6
Average 1830-1839 20.7
Average 1840-1849 20.5
Average 1850-1859 21.4
Average 1860-1869 20.4
Average 1870-1879 20.3
Average 1880-1889 20.5
Average 1890-1899 21.9

Among these, one group was significantly different: my Mennonite Ancestors, where the women were marrying much later on average (23.9 years).

There were relatively few marriages under age 17; most of those I know the story about, and correlated with either a widowed mother relieved to have one less child to support, or poverty in general.

BruceCrow said...

Wow. That is a really interesting pattern; almost cyclical. Totally different from the graph I came up with. The only similarity is the sharp rise in the last decade, which easliy could be cause by anything. The two that come to mind are that
1)Women in our society are marrying later that before, and/or
2)By the 1890s both yours and my data sample are down to just a dozen marriages.
3)or something else I can't think of right now.

But what surprized me most is the rarity of "under 17" marriages as you describe them. And had I been forced to guess about Mennonite average marriage age I would not have guessed almost 24. What we think is "true" isn't necessarily "true", is it?