Generally speaking, most European women since married in their early to mid twenties, to men in their mid to late twenties. The age gap for the commoners, i.e. the vast majority of the population, were typically not large. Unfortunately the question declined to define how much younger is "much younger" supposed to mean, but most Europeans married well after the onset of puberty.
Overall, there does seem to be an upward trend in marriage ages. However, we have little statistical evidence prior to the 17th century. The paucity of records makes claims of trends over the whole millennium rather hazardous.
Both spouses married late in Europe during the Early Middle Ages. Citing Carolingian survey data, the late David Herlihy argues that prior to 1000 or so, barbarian marriage customs - marrying in late twenties to similarly aged spouse - predominated in Western Europe. From about A.D. 1,000, however, the value of women appears to have declined. Rather than receiving a bridal price from the husband, families now paid dowries to unload daughters much earlier. The age of first marriage for women thus plummeted to their late teens, but largely left that of men unaffected.
For reasons that remain unclear, the situation began to be reversed at some point during the High and Late Middle Ages. This gave rise to the curious nuptial phenomenon known as the northwestern European pattern, which has dominated Western Civilisation to this date. Proposed in his highly influential 1965 work by John Hajnal, this paints a picture where both spouses married late and established their own households, independent of their parents. Another feature is that significant proportions of both men and women abstained from marriage completely. Under Hajnal's classification, this system prevailed west of an imaginary line running from Trieste to St Petersburg.
Hajnal's pattern is sometimes thought to originate from the value of retaining a daughter's labour on Late Medieval farms of Western Europe. Later on, the habit of young women and men to work in other households also delayed marriages. This contrasts with the Mediterranean situation, where domestic servants were more likely to be married and widowed. Other arguments propose that the need for financial security (due to the habit of relocating away from home upon marriage) forced delays.
Data from the Middle Ages are scarce, the earliest statistical records from the Late Medieval and Early Modern periods demonstrates a relatively high, and increasing, age at first marriage. By the Late Middle Ages Dijonese women were known to marry at 20. This rose to 21 during the 16th century, and everywhere in France the mean age of first marriage seemed to have climbed to about 25 by the 18th.
Similarly, in most German regions, women married in their twenties - averaging between 22.7 to 28.5 in one study. Demographic data from the late 17th century reveal that commoner women from Giessen and Heuchelheim on average first married when just over 24, although Mainz's average was much lower at 21.3.
Likewise, Medieval English couples are thought to have married during their their early to mid twenties. By the Early Modern period, the average 17th century English women were marrying when 25.6-26.2 to men 28.1 years of age, although it declined slightly subsequently.
In the Netherlands, by the middle of the period, the mean ages at first marriages for women were estimated to be about 20-21 at mid 16th century Leiden, and 23.5-25 at late 16th century Amsterdam. Both groups married husbands who were on average 1-2 years older. These numbers further increased after the 17th century.
Overall, the evidence is that European marriage patterns resembles that of the 20th century.
Not all of Europe followed the same pattern. Southern Europeans women were more likely to marry young to older men, although ages were generally still around 20. A landmark study of 1427 Tuscany reveal the mean age of first marriage there to be 19 for women, but 28 for men.
Subsequent studies on 15th and 16th century Florence confirms that all women married when 18 to 19, to men between 27.7 and 31.2. However, men with higher socioeconomic status tended to marry older, a trend not reflected in women's marriage patterns.
While the Florentine situation is often regarded as unusual, it is not unique. Another study of 15th century Ragusa showed that women were on average betrothed at 18, but gave birth to their first child when 22. From this the authors surmised that Ragusan couples consummated their marriages when the women were 21 and men 36. In this case, local cultural norms seemed to be the main culprit.
Nuptial patterns in colonial North America were also different from the colonists' Western European motherland. A lack of eligible women relative to available bachelors resulted in fierce competition for potential brides. This led to a reduction of women's age at first marriage in the 17th century, though it gradually caught up to European norms as the colonies grew over the following centuries.
However, few colonial couples marry as young as earlier writers had once assumed . In early English colonies, the average age at first marriage for women were late teens to very early twenties, roughly five years lower than that of England. In Massachusetts, women married around 19 to 20 in the early 17h century. Maryland women married even younger at 17 to 18, while for Virginians it was closer to 21.
The difference during the early colonial period is much smaller for men, who married mid to late twenties in the colonies. This was only a couple of years lower than that of English men. Mirroring developments in England, the gap in ages between spouse closed overtime. Women's age at first marriage climbed back up to almost 24 by the 19th century, while men's dropped slightly to around 25-26. In both cases, the mean age of different colonies evened out over time.
Many cultures elsewhere in the world did have lower marriage ages than contemporary Europeans. For instance, Song China at the start of this period had legal minimum ages of marriage set at 16 for men and 14 for women. A survey. of tomb inscriptions found on average, women married when slightly over 18 to men slightly over 23. Similarly, in Japan during the early modern period, women were found to have married around 16.7 to 22.7. By the late 18th and 19th centuries, especially in areas of high commercial development, women's mean age of marriage had rose to around 22-25.
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