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Age at marriage in 18th and 19th century Scotland

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This page has been created to help illustrate the average age at marriage in Scotland.

The aim is to provide help in working out the likely age of a person whose marriage date is known, but their their brith year is unknown, for example because their baptismal or birth record has not been found.

Average ages at marraige are, however, subject to a number of limitations, particualrly if the sample size used is skewed by outliers, and this information should only be regarded as a rough guide.

This page is a work in progress, and contributions from other WikiTree users is extremely welcome.

Minimum legal age of marriage

Before 1929

Before 1929, Scots law followed Roman law in allowing a girl to marry at twelve years of age and a boy at fourteen, without any requirement for parental consent.

Source: “What Was and Is The Minimum Age For Marriage in Scotland?” National Records of Scotland (https://www.nrscotland.gov.uk : accessed 18 August 2020).

1929 to the present day

The Age of Marriage Act 1929, which applied to Scotland, England and Wales, but not Northern Ireland) fixed the lawful marriage age at sixteen years for both sexes.

[Reference needed].

Sixteen remains the lower age-limit today, according to the Marriage (Scotland) Act 1977, as amended.

Source: "Marriage (Scotland) Act 1977," on-line version with amendments made since enactment, legislation.gov.uk (https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1977/15 : accessed 18 August 2020).

Average (mean) age at marriage

18th and 19th centruies

Writing in 1907, HM Registration Examiner, GT Bisset-Smith, stated that marriage at the young age permitted by law at the time was almost unknown. He did not state the time-period or evidence on which his information was based.

Source: G T Bisset-Smith, "Vital registration, A Manual of the Law and Practice Concerning the Registration of Births, Deaths, and Marriages, Registration Acts for Scotland," second edition (Edinburgh: William Green & Sons, 1907), page 66 ; digital images, Internet Archive (https://archive.org/ : accessed 18 August 2020).

Apparently writing about the mid-19th century, Houston and White state:

"Scotland appears to have resembled England in having a late age at first marriage for women - 23 to 26 on average, though female celibacy was more extensive."

Source: RA Houston and ID Whyte, "Scottish Society 1500–1800,” (Cambridge [England]: Cambridge University Press, 1989), page 6; digital image, Library of Congress (http://catdir.loc.gov/catdir/samples/cam031/88005004.pdf : accessed 19 August 2020).

1855 to 1900

In an unpublished survey of over 4,000 records from the statutory records in Scotland, the average age at first marriage was as follows:

  • Men: around 26 years and 3 months (26.33 years)
  • Women: around 24 years and 5 months (24.44 years)

Source: Fergus Smith, ‪@oldscotbooks, “Just ran a query on a sample of thousands of transcriptions of SR marriage records 1855-1900...,” Twitter (https://twitter.com : posted 18 August 2020).

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