By Tim Hitchcock
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Extra info for English Sexualities, 1700–1800
At the end of the seventeenth century the population of England was essentially stagnant, following a period of relatively rapid growth which had ended in the middle of the century. This period of population stagnation, between approximately 1650 and 1750, was most fundamentally characterised by late age at marriage. Men married at a mean age of approximately twenty-eight years and women at around twenty-seven years. This tendency to marry at a very late age, the European marriage pattern, was unique to Western Europe and the early-modern period (reaching an extreme in late-seventeenth-century England), and ensured that the overall fertility rate for the population was relatively low.
All people were believed to be on a gradient from male to female characteristics, depending on the quantity and quality of humoral life essence possessed by each individual. There were, of course, strong value judgements placed on the various poles of these gradients. Men were perceived to be naturally more rational, strong and intellectual than women, who were frequently thought to be lacking in the qualities endowed upon the individual by possession of a strong humoral essence. Women were hence likely to be irrational, physically weak and shorter lived.
None of these explanations have remained unchallenged, and none fit the demographic evidence very well. 11 There is a forty-year time lag between the rise in real wages and the drop in marriage age, and although this has been explained in terms of parental attitudes, and hence generational factors, the disparity in the chronology of these transitions remains. Changes in age at marriage, bastardy rates and proportion marrying occurred both in villages affected by industrial change and in other types of communities at about the same time.
English Sexualities, 1700–1800 by Tim Hitchcock