Prior to industrialization and during its early phases, economic considerations determined the choice of marriage partners, leaving little room for romantic love. Among the upper classes, marriages were contracted to consolidate landholdings and political power through dowries, patrimony, and social alliances, and with the aim of preserving bloodlines. Among the lower classes, mere survival necessitated marriage, and men often chose wives on the basis of their potential productive contribution as well as their reproductive capacities. Peasant farmers needed strong women who could help with labor, especially during harvests, as well as cultivate gardens, run a household, and sell products in the local market. Artisans needed partners who could help with their craft, and often chose wives from families of the same occupation. Even middle class wives provided essential assistance to their husbands in running businesses, as shopkeepers and accountants, in purchasing and selling products, and in negotiating prices. Romantic love may have affected choice of a partner, but parents and other kin actually feared its subversive influence on the broader economic community. Because marriage involved so many economic and familial considerations, couples wed at a late age through the beginning of the nineteenth century. On the average, men married at about age twenty-nine, and women at about age twenty-six. Many couples married only after one or both of their parents had died; parental death not only released patrimony, it released young people from the need for parental consent (Stone 1977; Davidoff and Hall 1987; Smith 1981; Gillis 1985).
The more intensified development of industrial capitalism in the nineteenth century undermined the restrictions on marriage among all classes, though economic concerns continued to prevail. In certain circumstances industrial wage labor encouraged earlier marriage because the contributions of a wife and children could increase chances for survival or for a higher standard of living. But in other circumstances low wages made marriage impossible; Michael Mitterauer and Reinhard Sieder (1983) discovered that in the Viennese district of Gumpendorf, up to a third of all workers in the mid-nineteenth century could never afford to marry or have a family. Others formed consensual unions and had children out of wedlock. Migration resulting from industrial change also disrupted marriage patterns, but far less than might be expected. Numerous studies have shown that young people rarely migrated alone, and when they did, it was to join relatives and neighbors who had preceded them to their destinations (Moch 1983; Anderson 1971). Marital endogamy thus persisted: people married others who were from similar occupations or similar origins, whether they had traveled twenty-five miles from their native village, or across the Atlantic. In Europe, and particularly in the United States, which received Europeans of so many different backgrounds, people married within their own ethnic groups, and specific ethnic groups concentrated in certain trades. In this manner, marriage countered the disruptive effects of geographical displacement, and continued to be the product of survival more than the result of romantic love.
Industrial capitalism and complex cultural factors associated with its impacts also influenced bourgeois marriages, but in a manner different from those of the lower classes. The accumulation of wealth that produced the bourgeoisie also fostered an ethic of individualism and created cultural freedom for the development of intimacy. The era of Romanticism in the early nineteenth century associated with art and literature also reflected and encouraged the development of romantic love (Perrot 1990; Kern 1992). Although economic considerations continued to play a crucial role in choosing a spouse, romantic love at least as an ideal began to compete with the traditional ethic, and gave rise to what historians have called the companionate marriage in which mutual affection was considered necessary for a successful union. Indeed, love between spouses became a moral duty among the middle classes (Stone 1977; Mitterauer and Sieder 1983).