When did women start lying about their age?

+6 votes
187 views
Did women lie about their age in the 1800s?  I've recently come across a couple of female ancestors  whose birth year keeps getting later as they get older.  It's mostly census data, but some other records as well.  Did they lie to the census taker or did people not keep track of their age very well back then?  It's not off by one year (rounding error), but up to a six year difference, and it's always in a younger direction.
asked in The Tree House by Kerry Larson G2G6 Mach 8 (80.2k points)
About the same time men did.

My husband's great grandfather lied about his age at immigration probably to avoid some regulation or fee required of adults.

Other men lied in the other direction in order to fight in the civil war.

So it wasn't a gender-specific phenomenon.
Not just women. I have a great grandfather who has a different age on every document with a variance of 12 years. He got younger each time he married.
I have a ggg-grandmother born September 1864.  In 1910, she gave her age as 36 (lied by 9 years).  In the 1920 census she was 38 (lied by 17 years).  In 1930, she gave her age as 52 (still off by 14 years).  Her death certificate (info from daughter-in-law) and grave stone says she was born in September 1873 (wrong by 9 years).

7 Answers

+9 votes
Women have been lying about their age since Eve.
answered by Trudy Roach G2G6 Pilot (170k points)
+9 votes
My grandmother lied because she was older than grampa.  Maybe some lied to be old enough to marry and then got younger later!  I think all the possibilities you suggest are feasible.

Add to your suggestions.....someone other than the lovely wife answering the census takerʻs questions.  Or just forgetting because they didn't have to enter their birth year on the hundreds of forms that we have to fill our during our lifetime.

Just adds to our fun!
answered by Kristina Adams G2G6 Pilot (142k points)
Mine too...
+8 votes

I don't understand why some women don't want people to know their age.  I don't care who knows I'm 21 (and have been for over 50 years now).

Seriously, I have seen just as much age variation in men as women on census, marriage, immigration, and death records.  Sometimes it's the transcription, but when it is a real error, it could be caused by any number of things:

  • if the people are recent immigrants, they may have a language problem and/or foreign accent that is not understood by the person recording the information.
  • many census takers in the old days - and especially in rural areas - were barely literate.
  • the person giving the information about another person may not know and just takes their best guess.
  • there must be a lot more, but I can't think of any at the moment.
answered by Gaile Connolly G2G6 Pilot (563k points)
+6 votes
I've seen a man suddenly lose about a decade -- from 70-ish to 60-ish -- in his own handwriting, on his WW-I registration card. His identity and residence was attested to by his female boarding-house keeper, in beautiful flowery handwriting.

Usually men don't lose status with age like women do, but in this case...
answered by Patricia Hawkins G2G6 Mach 1 (19.8k points)
+5 votes
I have an 18 year old male marrying a 34 year old woman, on their marriage record he is 23 and she is 25. I think, sometimes even the parish priests colluded in making certain marriages more palatable.
answered by Helmut Jungschaffer G2G6 Pilot (446k points)
Hah, that is great! I suppose the priest was hoping God forgives!
+5 votes
I come from a long line of women who don't lie about their ages, perhaps because we all look like we're twenty years younger than we are (I'm 62, by the way).  My great-great-grandfather, however, lied about HIS age to try to get more money from his Civil War pension, and because of this, his descendants persist in believing that his mother was 8 years old when she gave birth to him.
answered by J. Crook G2G6 Pilot (156k points)
+3 votes

"Thirty-five is a very attractive age. London society is full of women of the very highest birth who have, of their own free choice, remained thirty-five for years. Lady Dumbleton is an instance in point. To my own knowledge she has been thirty-five ever since she arrived at the age of forty, which was many years ago now.”
Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest. (1895)
So, obviously pre-1895.

answered by J G G2G6 Mach 8 (83.4k points)

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