The history of the family vol:8 issue:1 pages:135-162
The article addresses the belief that the Early Modern period and the early 19th century were characterized by “many” remarriages. The confusion in the analysis, however, between proportion and intensity has led much research down the wrong track. The evolution in remarriage intensity and in some other sociodemographic remarriage characteristics was measured for the period 1800–1913 in Leuven, Aalst, and Bierbeek—three areas with different socioeconomic structures and cultural climates. Comparison of the age-specific ratios shows that the remarriage probability of widowed people was often lower than first-marriage probability of those not previously married, even in the first half of the 19th century. In so far as our data are representative of the Early Modern period, the claim that “many” remarriages took place then must be put into perspective. In fact—with the exception of young widowers—fewer remarriages than first marriages often occurred. The proportion of remarriages fell from 20–25% in the first half of the 19th century to 10–15% by the end of the century. The most frequently occurring remarriage type was that between a widower and an unmarried woman; the least common was between a widower and a widow. An additional cultural factor was that from approximately the mid-19th century on, first marriage was so central to the development of a private social environment and was so highly valued that a watered-down version, in the form of remarriage, was held in low esteem and even rejected.