Partner selection in 19th century Western Flanders: a complex process. The effect of age homogamy on social heterogamy

Nina Van den Driessche, Ghent University
Bart Van de Putte, Ghent University

Age homogamy and social heterogamy both have been associated with the erosion of the European Marriage Pattern (EMP) in Western Europe (i.e. declining mean age at first marriage and declining permanent celibacy) and are said to be indicative of a more egalitarian, romantic view on marriage and partner selection. Both variables have been examined extensively, but little attention has been paid to the relationship between age homogamy and social heterogamy. We hypothesize that individuals choose their partner according to a number of criteria (f.e.age, social class, ethnicity), but that these choices are inevitable prioritized. In the current study we focus on the effect of age homogamy on social heterogamy. If there is a more egalitarian view on marriage, which leads to a preference for age peers, someone who has the same life experiences and social norms as theirs, this could have as an indirect consequence someone with other characteristics than theirs (f.e.: a different social class). We are especially interested in the way this effect differs according to social class and period and will pay special attention to the role of urbanization. A softer version of the hypothesis states that age homogamy does not necessarily lead to social heterogamy. Here, the assumption is that most classes are large enough to combine instrumental and egalitarian partner selection criteria. For the Western Flanders data we found evidence that corroborates the main hypothesis, namely that age homogamy leads to social heterogamy, as a consequence of the preference for an age peer, but no hard evidence has been found for the softer version of the hypothesis. The effect is prevalent for almost each social class/ occupational group, except for the skilled workers and unskilled workers, which could point to the fact that those groups were able to combine instrumental and non-instrumental partner choice criteria.

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Presented in Session 62: Historical perspectives on family dynamics