Humans have been getting married for a long time, but at least some of their motivations for doing so have changed over time.
The romantics among you will take heart from new research that analyses changing “mate preferences” over the 20th century. It does so by examining something I didn’t even know existed: marriage ads. More than 300,000 of them appeared in the bestselling monthly magazine in France (Le Chasseur Français) between 1928 and 1994 and by examining words used in the ads the research looks for changes in what people want in a partner. Or at least say they want.
The conclusion is that even big events such as the Great Depression and Second World War didn’t make much difference. Preferences for mates remained dominated by economic criteria, specifying, for example, that a potential match be in a “good [economic] situation”. However, from the 1960s onwards, social change such as rising cohabitation saw personality-based criteria take centre stage – especially for women. People wanted “companionship and love” from their partner… which is nice.
But before we get all lovey-dovey, some big societal changes now point the other way. With household wealth having surged to seven times national income, you can’t earn your way to being wealthy in modern Britain. Some will be lucky enough to be born into it, but what about the rest? You’ll need to marry into it.
Torsten Bell is chief executive of the Resolution Foundation. Read more at resolutionfoundation.org