Nostalgia Goggles – or, why the Manosphere ought to step up its scholarly description of age at first marriage


Nostalgia goggles are more dangerous than beer goggles.

The manosphere makes various claims about the proper ages which men and women should marry each other. Some of these claims are supported by historical arguments. Let us not mistake nostalgia for history.

Before we start, I want to make it clear that I encourage amateur scholarship. I regard my own blogging efforts as amateurish. “Amateur” means we are motivated by the love of the activity, thus we don’t charge money for our efforts.

As an example of professional scholarship, consider Gaspart’s paper, “Marriage Consent and the Age of Women at First Marriage in the Senegal River Valley”:

Click to access 198-Gasport.pdf

Gentle Reader, you may object that you have no interest in Senegal, and that you refuse to draw conclusions about your own exalted culture based on observations of Senegal. I ask you merely to examine Gaspart’s scholarly method and honestly ask yourself whether it is more professional than the pop anthropology that so frequently fills the manosphere.

I have tried to balance criticism and encouragement of amateur scholarship here:

and here:

But even though we are amateurs, we ought to write the best scholarship within our power!

In that spirit I present five criticisms of the manosphere’s scholarship regarding the historical age of socially-condoned marriage.


First off, the manosphere has a limited supply of academically trained historians. Most of those tend to focus on European history for some non-representative fraction of the population and ignore the histories of other demographic sectors and geographic regions.

* In terms of demographic sectors, we need to look at the whole picture. Don’t just consider when noblewomen got married – also consider lower-class farm wives, urban scullery maids, women who entered nunneries, etc.

* In terms of geography, Asian and African histories are practically unknown to the manosphere. Someone ought to throw some writing talent at this problem. (And you, Gentle Reader, are someone!)

Second, the manosphere talks about “historical norms” without listing their historical sources. Weber and Toynbee would have very different ideas of what constitutes a social “norm” regarding marriage, and Gibbon would probably disagree with both of them.

We need to consider the theory of what societies believed they ought to do, and the practice of what they did. E.g. medieval Europeans may have believed that they needed to avoid both masturbation and whoring in theory, but perhaps in practice some of them whored and others masturbated and perhaps some of them were perfectly chaste.

Third, we have to insist on some minimal level of statistical understanding in our audience. It does no good to document that the median female age of marriage was 22 in the USA of the 1890s if the audience doesn’t know the difference between a median and a standard deviation.


If the median was 22, was the mean also close to 22? What was the standard deviation? How divergent was the curve from an ideal bell curve?

Fourth, we must criticize the limitations of historians. I often note that historians write about the medical symptoms of medieval folk without understanding much of modern medical science. In the lengthy quote below, for example, there is no discussion of how medieval nutrition and phenotypical changes might have affected menstruation.

I would argue that the variation in phenotypes between generations of the same gene pool must be quantitatively significant. Unfortunately I can only support this with relatively recent data, most of it from the 20th century.

Consider the following poorly-supported claim:

Puberty (and thus menstruation / periods) usually takes place between the ages of 10yo and 16yo.
“Most girls start their first periods at about 12 or 13; however some girls may have periods by the age of 8 and still others may not have a period until they are 14 or 15.”(Source: About Women’s Health).

If modern girls of 8 go through menarche, would not any modern physician suspect endocrine disruption due to modern pollutants? Thus – in the absence of other data – a historian ought to reject this outlier point when estimating menarche onset in medieval populations.

Fifth, we have to admit that we’re not going to get our blogs much above the level of “pop sci” puff pieces. This is not going to be publishable in peer-reviewed journals. Therefore we must make our writing accessible to a very broad audience.


Medieval Marriage & Childbirth
From a specifically female point of view, marriage and childbirth were an important aspect in the life of a medieval girl or woman. The risks associated with childbirth, however, were quite high at the time due to a number of factors: age; health and illness; birthing complications; and death.

For many noble-born or royal women, marriage could and often did take place at a young age. There are many instances or very young girls being betrothed and married under the age of 10 years old. This did not necessarily mean that the marriage was consummated. However, there was a perception that once a girl began her period that she was considered to be of marriageable age. And so the male could begin his almighty pursuit for an heir.

Puberty is the process of change that takes place as you grow up and become physically mature and capable of having children.
Puberty (and thus menstruation / periods) usually takes place between the ages of 10yo and 16yo.
“Most girls start their first periods at about 12 or 13; however some girls may have periods by the age of 8 and still others may not have a period until they are 14 or 15.”(Source: About Women’s Health).

At the time when we have our first period or “menarche”, we are crossing the line from girlhood to womanhood.
Now, marriages of noble and royal women were usually for political and dynastic consideration. So, at what age did a young noblewoman enter into marriage.

It is more common for a young woman to have been married early, though not to have had her first child until she was much older. It is agreed that the most common age for a young woman to have given birth to her first child is from 16yo.

In Italy the average age for marriage was 17; in France it is 16yo; and in England and Germany 18yo was the average age – all for first marriages. (Source: “Medieval Households” by David Herlihy, Harvard University Press, 1985).

The consensus is that young women of middle or low status married and gave birth at a much later age for a number of reasons:

They did not need to marry for dynastic reasons.
They tended to contribute to the family income whilst they remained unmarried and still living within the family unit.
Girls were often employed in service for a “fixed” term before being paid out and released from service.
And in some cases, a “fee” was required to be paid upon the marriage.
“Church law forbade child marriage and allowed young brides and grooms to repudiate the marriage once they reached the age of puberty, which was officially set at 12 for girls and 14 for boys”
So, the most common age for a young woman of middle or low status to marry was from the age of 22 years old. Thus we can conclude that this young woman would have given birth to her first child before she was 25 years old.

What exactly does the writer mean by “low” status? Is that a European slave captured by Mediterranean pirates, a farm girl churning milk curds, a novice nun imprisoned in a convent against her wishes?

I am certainly not an authority on scholarship, or on history, or on marriage. If I, with my amateur status, can go so far, then you, Gentle Reader, can surpass me and bring even more truth to light.

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