Trends In Marriage
More than one hundred years ago, settlers from northern and western Europe brought norms that dictated that young people establish independent homes upon marriage (Gee 1982). As a result, many people did not marry, or they married late in life because they did not have the financial resources to support a household. In 1921 the average age of marriage for men was twenty-eight years and for women it was just under twenty-five. In some ethnic groups—for example, those descended from Highland Scots—the average age of marriage was even higher.
Historically, marriage rates in Canada have fluctuated with the state of the country's economy. In the 1930s, while Canada experienced the Great Depression, many couples refrained from marrying due to economic uncertainty and high unemployment. Marriage rates decreased from 7.5 marriages per 1,000 people in 1928 to 5.9 in 1932 (Milan 2000). It was not until World War II that Canadians began to marry again in large numbers. New employment opportunities stimulated the increased rate of matrimony, as did the possibility of conscription. Single men were being called to wartime service, and many couples tried to prevent this through marriage. As a result, in 1942 there were almost eleven marriages per 1,000 people—nearly twice the marriage rate of a decade earlier. The rate declined while the men were at war, but it returned to its 1942 level when couples were reunited in 1946.
By the late 1940s marriage rates began to drop again and continued to decline until the 1970s, when children of the postwar marriages, called the baby boom generation, were themselves ready to marry. However, in the 1980s marriage rates returned to a downward trend, and in 1998 they reached an unprecedented low of five marriages per 1,000 people. Fewer Canadians were choosing to marry than ever before, although the economy was not a major influence in this decline.
Typically, nations with low marriage rates are late marrying populations, so along with the fluctuations in the incidence of marriage rates came a variation in the average age of first marriage. During the early twentieth century, couples married late in life. This changed in the years following World War II, as marriage rates increased and the average age at first marriage declined steadily. By 1962 the average age had dropped to 25.2 years for men and 22.5 for women. The increased affluence following World War II contributed to lowering the age at first marriage because couples could then afford to marry earlier.
Since the late 1960s, the age at first marriage has risen again. In 1997, for example, first-time brides were, on average, 27.4 years old and grooms were 29.5 year old (The Vanier Institute 2000). This increase has been associated with, among other factors, greater acceptance of cohabitation without marriage, as well as more education and economic independence for women. So paradoxically, though current figures are similar to those earlier in the century, the reasons behind them are quite different.