Well…. how young are you thinking? 20? 25? 16? 18? 13?
I read an article (which horrified me in it’s incorrect assumptions and conclusions, so I’m not linking it) recently that concluded marriage at 16 was a good thing, to be encouraged. They said there is nothing wrong with sex at 16 if you were married. They also stated:
The undisputed optimal age biologically for a woman to have a baby is around age 16.
For one, it’s wrong. Completely and unequivocally. (I might also point out that pregnant at 16 likely means sex/marriage before 16.) A quick Google search of medical studies on this matter found that physiologically, the safest biological age for child-bearing is 20-24, according to a study by The New England Journal of Medicine. Other scientific studies have supported this and shown repeatedly that there are increased risks to girls under the age of 20 during pregnancy. It’s simple enough to research the science if you have an internet connection.
In addition, children do not have the emotional and mental maturity for marriage. According to a study found at Psychology Today, it states:
Regions that specialize in language, for example, grow rapidly until about age 13 and then stop. The frontal lobes of the brain which are responsible for high level reasoning and decision making aren’t fully mature until the early 20s, according to Deborah Yurgelun-Todd, a neuroscientist at Harvard’s Brain Imaging Center. There’s a portion of time when the child part of the brain has been pruned, but the adult portion is not fully formed. They are “in-between.” They are informed but not prepared.
Not only are our children developing physically at a younger age, but they are exposed to and given information at a phenomenally advanced rate in high school. They have access to information beyond their maturity level at very young ages. This takes time to process. It slows down the maturity process. In the 1950’s women may have graduated high school ready to manage and run a household, with advanced sewing, cooking and cleaning skills but that was all they were taught. They were not also studying science, advanced math, advanced literature, etc. They were not exposed to information overload on every possible topic under the sun. The more information we feed our brains, the more time it takes to process it.
That’s the science.
So, why did the age of marriage change?
Historically, people married young, but they also died young. In all written records, marriage is for sex, so marriage before puberty was not typical. In ancient Rome, where records were kept, the age of marriage was around 14. Of course, it must be kept in mind that people only lived until the ages of 30-50, so they married about halfway through their lifespan.
Men typically got married to benefit their careers, after pursuing their career and education opportunities. Girls/women just waited for the men to be ready to get married, which meant a large gap in ages. According to this article, this was considered in 1275 in England when legislating age of consent for rape and the legal age of marriage for girls was set at 12 at that time. This was continued for many years, and in the American colonies, was even dropped to 10. In France in 1791 the age was set at 11 and this was the time people began to realize children were not miniature adults and began to be worried about their emotional development, accordingly, by the 19th century the age of marriage had risen to the mid-late teens in Europe.
Interestingly, other continents set the age of marriage much higher. Specifically, in Japan during the 17th-19th centuries, the average marital age for women was between 15 to 20, and for men was 25-28. The age of 16 seems to somewhat universal for an accepted marital age, though most countries require parental consent and/or court approval/order to marry before 18. Ironically, some places still allow girls to be married at 16 while men must be 18 before marriage. Muslim, Sharia, law allows marriage at any age.
Legally, in Canada, you must be 18 to be married, though in some cases you can marry after 16 with parental permission or court order. In the United States, the legal age of marriage is 18 in all States, except Mississippi where it is 21. 23 States allow exceptions with a shocking 9 without a minimum age, a great number allow marriage at 15 or 16 with parental permission, pregnancy, or court order.
Most of us have heard of the 13 year old girl in Florida who is being forced to marry her rapist to protect him from legal charges. This is legal in Florida. Can you imagine what her life will be like? She’s already been abused, refused a healing path, and now forced to live with and sleep with her abuser for life.
That’s the history and a brief summary of current law.
According to this article at TakePart.com, statistics on Child marriage show that 720 million girls are married before 18 and 156 boys are married before 18. Early marriage is a direct link to incomplete education, early and dangerous pregnancy, and is a leading cause of continued poverty.
Does Scripture speak to marital age? Not really, but we can see that in the pre-flood days when the lifespan was 600-900 years, children started being born between 150 to 300 years old, so marriage is very much influenced by society and culture, not by physical development (puberty). In Roman times (New Testament times), when the lifespan was 30-50 years, the marital age was around 14.
According to this article, Judaism allowed marriage after 12 for girls and 14 for boys with parental permission, but the legal marrying age was 21.
Scripture does speak to protecting the weak and vulnerable. Psalm 82:3-4 admonishes us to:
3 Defend the weak and the fatherless;
uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.
4 Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.
God expects us to use common sense. Just because child marriage was acceptable once upon a time doesn’t give us the right to ignore the science, the history or our responsibility toward our fellow man, woman and child.
I think we can conclude that, while there are exceptions to every rule, the typical person is not mature enough to contemplate marriage in their teens, especially before the age of 18. And certainly that child marriage is not beneficial in most circumstances.