Regrettably, I won't be able to pursue this notion much further (to far afield from my present study) but our discussions over marriage patterns in early modern Northwestern Europe, were really helpful to me. Via Wikipedia, here is a basic summary of the concept:


The Hajnal line links Saint Petersburg, Russia and Trieste, Italy. In 1965, John Hajnal discovered it divides Europe into two areas characterized by a different levels of nuptiality. West of this line, the average age of women at first marriage was 24 or more, men 26, spouses were relatively close in age, and 10% or more of adults never married. East of the line, the mean age of both sexes at marriage was earlier, spousal age disparity was greater and marriage more nearly universal. 

Subsequent research has amply confirmed Hajnal's continental divide, and what has come to be known as the 'Western European marriage pattern', although historical demographers have also noted that there are significant variations within the region. The Western European pattern of late and non-universal marriage restricted fertility massively, especially when it was coupled with very low levels of childbirth out of wedlock. Birth control took place by delaying marriage more than suppressing fertility within it. Women's life-phase from menarche to first birth was unusually long, averaging ten to twelve years. 

The region's late marriage pattern has received considerable scholarly attention in part because it appears to be unique; it has not been found in any other part of the world prior to the Twentieth Century. The origins of the late marriage system are a matter of conjecture prior to the 16th Century when the demographic evidence from family reconstitution studies makes the prevalence of the pattern clear. Many historians have wondered whether this unique conjugal regime might explain, in part, why capitalism first took root in Northwestern Europe, contributing to the region's relatively low mortality rates, hastening the fragmentation of the peasantry and the precocious formation of a mobile class of landless wage-earners. 

Others have highlighted the significance of the late marriage pattern for gender relations, for the relative strength of women's position within marriage, the centrality of widows in village land inheritance, and the vitality of women's community networks.

Tantalizing stuff. For those interested in following up, see the original thread for many great recommendations.

I was thinking yesterday about how, had this been discovered in the 19th century, it would have swiftly been folded into racist suppositions. Perhaps, in our time, it already has. I would not be surprised. But one thing I'm getting from my readings of Wedgewood is exactly how foolish it is to examine history through a racial lens. That should be differentiated from examining racism through a historical lens. Still, the mess that came to be Europe is baffling and beautiful. 

It's cool to go somewhere for awhile where you're free from the veil. That said, I don't know how I'd feel if I were Jewish. Seemingly every random calamity is followed by a pogrom.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.