A Christian mother and regular reader of my blog asked “Would society be better if we returned to the standard that girls could marry as soon as they menstruated and were capable of having kids?” To ask such a question in America in the year 2019 seems patently absurd. Of course, society would NOT be better off if girls could marry as soon as they menstruated! Before we go further to address the obvious absurdity of this woman’s question here is the full email from her below.
Here is the complete email I received from a woman calling herself Rebekah:
“Long time reader, first time writer. First, I want to thank you for your trenchant insights, observations, and monologues. It’s great to find a man with such a passion for Christ and a traditional way of life. I’m a married mother with 3 daughters (12, 13, and 16) and (15) one son and my hubby and I are raising them to be good Christians and to abide by traditional gender roles.
I recently had a discussion with my husband about the expectation for marriage and we wondered, would society be better if we returned to the standard that girls could marry as soon as they menstruated and were capable of having kids? My two eldest daughters are certainly capable, and they are very motherly already.
What is your opinion?”
Why do such statements as the ones above evoke such a sense of righteous indignation from most of us in modern America and Western culture? We will discuss these reasons next.
Why Modern Society Disapproves of the Pubescent Marriage of Women
Ancient and medieval historical records can attest to the following statement that was made in an article entitled “Child Marriage – Rationale, Historical Views, And Consequences” :
“Child marriages involving only one marriage partner below the age of 18, usually the female, are also quite common. Throughout history till the 20th century, child marriages were the norm in most parts of the world. With the average life expectancy during such times being only 40 to 45 years of age, child marriages were the faster way to reproduce. Girls were usually married off as soon as they reached puberty or sometimes even prior to that.”
In the same article they mention in addition to shorter life expectancies that there were often economic reasons as well:
“Over the years, a large number of reasons have been suggested as triggers behind the practice of child marriage. Economic problems have been one of the primary factors that have forced parents to marry off their young girls. The system of dowry prevailing in many countries where parents of girls have to bestow hefty sums of money or expensive goods and ornaments to the in-laws’ families of their daughters have led to the consideration of the girl child as a burden in such households. However, the high demand of young girls in the marriage market have helped parents marry off their girl child to an older man, often receiving money in return, allowing them to overcome the burdens of dowry and even economically benefiting from the process.”
But in the same article we then find the reasons for our modern Western society’s disapproval of marriage for women of pubescent age:
“Child marriage is associated with scientifically established adverse effects to the young female child’s health. Pregnant girls below the age of 15 have a 5 to 7 times higher chance of dying during childbirth as compared to pregnant women in their twenties. Child mothers are also more susceptible to develop obstetric fistula, cervical cancer, sexually transmitted diseases and other health problems. Infant mortality rates are also 60% higher in case of children born of mothers who are below the age of 18 years. Child marriage usually deprives the female child of educational rights, leading to the loss of financial independence of the child in her future. Child brides are also susceptible to domestic violence, marital rapes and sexual abuse as they are not mature enough to protest and not independent enough to escape adverse situations in their conjugal life.”
So young mothers under 15 having 5 to 7 times higher of a chance of dying from their pregnancy should be enough for all us to oppose pubescent marriage for young girls, right?
And then what about the fact these poor young girls may be deprived of education rights which will lead to a loss of financial independence from their future husbands? And their higher susceptibility to tolerate future abuse from their future husbands?
Is this not an open and shut case against the marriage of pubescent age women?
Well before we can totally wrap up our conclusion, we need to tie up a few “loose ends”.
Putting Maternal and Infant Mortality Rates in Perspective
Two of the “loose ends” we need to tie up are maternal and infant mortality rates. Previously we were told one of the reasons we should oppose the marriage of pubescent age women is because women in this age group have higher chances of dying from child birth and their infants have a higher chance of dying after birth within the first year.
The maternal mortality rate (MMR) is the number of women who die each year at any stage of pregnancy. According to the World Health Organization(WHO) 211 million women get pregnant each year.
The sad news for us as Christians and those who value human life is that 46 million of those pregnancies are ended by the murderous act of abortion. That means 165 million women continue with their pregnancies. Of those 165 million pregnancies, 123 million will be “successful”, meaning that the mother gives birth and the child survives.
Of the children that survive in these 123 million births, 2.51 million, or 2 percent, will die before reaching their first birthday (this is the global infant mortality rate).
About 302,950 women die each year worldwide from pregnancy. That means women worldwide have a 0.2 percent chance dying from pregnancy related health problems or on the other hand they have a 99.8 percent chance of dying from pregnancy.
To put these numbers further in perspective, of those 302,950 women who die from pregnancy each year 99 percent of pregnancy related deaths occur in the developing world. And even in sub-Saharan Africa, which has the highest MMR in the world, only 500 women out of 100,000 died from pregnancy related complications.
The key numbers to take away from this section on maternal and infant mortality rates are that in total 0.2 percent of women who get pregnant and do not murder their unborn children later die as a result of their pregnancies. A total of 2 percent of infants worldwide will die before they reach their first birthday. And statistically speaking the vast majority of these deaths that occur in both these categories occur in Africa. The saddest number of all these numbers is of course the worldwide purposeful murder of 22 percent of children in their mother’s womb by the act that modern civilization calls abortion.
The Societal Impact of Economic and Social Independence for Women
Another “loose end” we need to tie up has to do with women’s social and economic independence from men. After all that is good thing, right?
For most of the history of mankind, with few exceptions, women were economically and socially tied to their fathers or their husbands and were considered the property of their fathers or husbands. Women could not own property and if they did inherit property it would come under their husband’s authority upon marriage. In divorce fathers retained full custody of the children.
The fact that women could not own property, could not easily divorce their husbands and when they did divorce, they had to leave without their children and without any property or income was a strong incentive for women to stay with their husbands.
This all changed in the mid-19th century with the rise of feminism. It began with women suing in the courts for the right to own property as men did. Then in the late 19th century the historic custom of fathers retaining full custody of their children was reversed and full custody was given to the mother. Fathers did not gain back at least joint custody rights until almost a century later in 1960s.
Now the incentives that brought women to marriage to men, and kept women in marriage to men had been all but destroyed.
It was also during this time that women began to throw of the authority of their fathers in courting and began the new practice of “dating”. Men and women entering marriage based on the historic principles of faith, duty, honor and economics gradually was replaced with men and women entering marriage simply for “love” – which was really just infatuation.
And since women had come to gain alimony, child support, and property rights there was little incentive for them to stay in marriage to a man once the infatuation wore off. This caused divorce rates to sky rocket from 3 percent before the rise of feminism in the mid-19th century to 13 percent by the time woman’s suffrage was ratified in 1920 in the United States.
Anna Howard Shaw, one of the champions of first wave feminism made the following statement in the February 25th, 1915 edition of the New York Evening Post:
“I believe in woman suffrage, whether all women vote or no women vote; whether all women vote right or all women vote wrong; whether women will love their husbands after they vote or forsake them; whether they will neglect their children or never have any children at all.”
Anna Howard Shaw summed up the goals of the political feminists’ movements of the 19th and early 20th century. The total liberation and independence of women from men no matter what the costs to society. Country, marriage and motherhood and children could all be destroyed to meet their goals. The only thing that mattered was women having complete and utter control of their lives.
And what cost did we pay as a nation? Well Anna Howard Shaw’s words came true. Women gained the right to vote and even gained the right to force men to hire them for any positions they wanted. And in 1973 they gained the right to murder their unborn children under the guise of total bodily autonomy.
The social and economic independence of women in America has directly led to rampant sexual immorality, the decline of marriage, over 60 million divorces and over 60 million abortions.
The Arguments Against the Marriage of Pubescent Women Are Faulty
Well it seems that in our effort to tie up loose ends regarding opposition to pubescent women marrying we have instead unraveled the entire ball of yarn.
Before I show how the arguments against pubescent women marrying are faulty, I want to explain some terminology I have been using. The way we label something or someone can very much affect how we view that something or someone. For instance, those of us who oppose abortion as a right for women call ourselves “prolife” while those who believe abortion is a right for women call themselves “prochoice”. Prolife advocates such as myself call the child a “baby” from the moment it is conceived while Prochoice advocates will refer to the child based on his or her biological stages of development with such words as “zigote” or “embryo” or “fetus” in an attempt to dehumanize the human being growing inside his or her mother’s womb.
In the same way when having this argument about the age of marriage for women those who oppose marriage for women before the age of 18 will call all marriage before the age of 18 “Child Marriage”. But is 16 or 17-year-old female or male human being for that matter, a child? The answer biologically speaking is no.
Human beings go through a transition phase from child to adult and this transition phase is called puberty. Children are human beings in the prepubescent stage of development. Adolescents are human beings that are at some stage of puberty. When the changes of puberty are complete the human adolescent becomes a human adult. Girls typically start puberty around the age of 11 while some start as early as 9 or 10 and they typically complete puberty by the age of 14. Boys start a little later than girls typically around the age of 12 and they finish puberty around the age of 16 or 17.
Those who say a female human being who has experienced the major changes of puberty which are the development of breasts, pubic hair and the start of menstruation is a child are stating a biological falsehood. Such a female human being is no longer a child (prepubescent human being), but rather she is either an adolescent (pubescent human being) or an adult (postpubescent human being).
This is why I have consistently referred to this argument as one being about the “the marriage of pubescent women” because a female human being who has experienced the changes of puberty is no longer a child.
When we acknowledge the fact that worldwide a total of 0.2 percent of women die from pregnancy related deaths, and that includes pubescent mothers, then the even if they represent a higher proportion of that 0.2 percent it does not make a strong case against pubescent women marrying. Instead we can respond with that fact that at least 99.8 percent of pubescent women worldwide will survive their pregnancies.
When we acknowledge the fact that only 2 percent of all infants worldwide die in the first year of their life and even if children from pubescent mothers make up more of that 2 percent than children from postpubescent women, we can rightly say pubescent mothers have at least a 98 percent chance of their children surviving their first year of life. A difference somewhere within the 2 percent range between two groups of women having their children survive is not a strong argument against pubescent women marrying.
Some may respond that these are numbers that mix the developed world and undeveloped worlds. But let me remind you of the WHO numbers which stated even in sub-Saharan Africa, which has the highest MMR in the world, only 500 women out of 100,000 died from pregnancy related complications in a given year over the last decade.
Then we come to other social reasons for opposition to marriage for pubescent women.
One of those reasons is that these pubescent women will have a “the loss of financial independence” from their husbands most likely because they do not finish high school and the college and get careers before marrying.
But based on the stats I just showed which correlate the granting of economic rights to women with the destruction of marriage by disincentivizing women to seek and stay in marriage to men is “the loss of financial independence” for women a bad thing? The answer if we believe that lasting marriages form the bedrock of a stable civilization must be NO.
And finally, what about the assertion that pubescent brides are more “susceptible to domestic violence, marital rapes and sexual abuse as they are not mature enough to protest and not independent enough to escape adverse situations in their conjugal life”? Is this a strong enough argument on its own for us to oppose pubescent women marrying?
Are there some men that truly do abuse their wives, whether they enter marriage as pubescent women or as postpubescent women? Absolutely. But again, we must put things in perspective. Just as we cannot toss out women getting pregnant because a tiny fraction of women may die from pregnancy so to, we cannot throw out marriage for pubescent women because of the sad fact that a higher fraction of a tiny percentage of pubescent women will be truly abused.
Now that I have shown the arguments against pubescent women marrying to be faulty and weak, we will now present strong arguments for the marriage of pubescent women.
Why We Should Support the Practice of Pubescent Marriage
I have previously shown from a biological perspective it is incorrect to refer to a human being that is going through puberty or one that has finished puberty as a child. Therefore, it is utterly wrong to label it as “Child marriage” when a pubescent woman enters marriage.
Before the last century human societies recognized three primary social classes of human beings. Men, Women and Children. Once children entered puberty, they were basically considered either men or women. The concept of a “teenager” is a more recent invention over the last century.
Boys were considered men around the ages of 12 to 13 and this is why it was the norm for these young men to begin their trade in their early teen years so they could save their money, buy their own land and build a home. Once they did this, usually by their late teens or early 20s, they would seek out a wife for marriage. For girls, as soon as they developed breasts and began menstruating, they were considered women and ready for marriage and child bearing.
Many will argue that just because a young woman is biologically ready for marriage and child bearing, does not mean she is mature enough mentally for marriage and child bearing.
So how do we answer the question of when a person is ready for marriage? Is it by looking to how civilizations have done things in the past? Is it by looking to current studies?
The answer, first and foremost for us as Christians, is to look to the Word of God.
“But if any man think that he behaveth himself uncomely toward his virgin, if she pass the flower of her age, and need so require, let him do what he will, he sinneth not: let them marry.”
1 Corinthians 7:36 (KJV)
The phrase “the flower of her age” refers to when a woman has her period. The Apostle Paul is telling us here that the minimum of age of marriage is when a woman has her first period.
However, we must take the complete witness of the Scriptures together to determine when is the acceptable “time of love” for a young woman – as in marriage and sex.
“7 I have caused thee to multiply as the bud of the field, and thou hast increased and waxen great, and thou art come to excellent ornaments: thy breasts are fashioned, and thine hair is grown, whereas thou wast naked and bare.
8 Now when I passed by thee, and looked upon thee, behold, thy time was the time of love; and I spread my skirt over thee, and covered thy nakedness: yea, I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord God, and thou becamest mine.”
Ezekiel 16:7-8 (KJV)
So, it is not until a young girl demonstrates all the signs of puberty, the growth of breasts, pubic hair and having a period that she is ready for marriage. With most young women, their first period comes after the development of their breasts and pubic hair while in some rare cases the period may come first. But the Scriptures show us that all three of these elements are required.
In fact, in another Scripture we read that if a woman was completely flat chested and had no breasts, she would have a difficult time marrying (even if she had her first period):
“We have a little sister, and she hath no breasts: what shall we do for our sister in the day when she shall be spoken for?”
Song of Solomon 8:8 (KJV)
The point here is that God tells us when a woman develops breasts, grows pubic hair and has her period she is ready for marriage by God’s law.
But we must also recognize that God gives a father discretion as to when his daughter is ready for marriage:
“Take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; that ye may be increased there, and not diminished.”
Jeremiah 29:6 (KJV)
“16 And if a man entice a maid that is not betrothed, and lie with her, he shall surely endow her to be his wife. 17 If her father utterly refuse to give her unto him, he shall pay money according to the dowry of virgins.”
Exodus 22:16-17 (KJV)
The passages above show us that fathers have the responsibility to prepare their daughters for marriage and be looking for suitable husbands for their daughters while at the same time they have the right of refusal for their daughter for marriage as well.
Early Teen Women Are Very Fertile
Carolyn Butler wrote an article entitled “Ovaries have not adjusted to many women’s decision to delay having children” for the Washington Post back in 2010. In that article she stated the following inconvenient biological facts for women:
“The biological reality that female fertility peaks in the teens and early 20s can be difficult for many American women to swallow, as they delay childbirth further every year, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. In the District, the average age of initial childbirth was 26.5 years in 2006, up 5.5 years since 1970, the highest jump in the country…
“While we may not be mature enough to conceive at a young age, nor should we, that is still when the body is most adept at conception and carrying a baby,” says Claire Whelan, program director of the American Fertility Association. “Our biological clock has not kept pace with our ability to prolong our life spans.” Stillman agrees, pointing out that research about advanced maternal age and motherhood today is clear: The older you get, the more difficult it is to get pregnant and the higher the chance of miscarriage, pregnancy problems such as gestational diabetes and hypertension, and chromosomal abnormalities such as Down syndrome, among other concerns…
“Society has changed, ” says Stillman, “but the ovaries will take another million years or two to catch up to that.””
Notice how she has to preface her acknowledgement of the biological reality of when women are “most adept at conception and carrying a baby” with her value judgment that “While we may not be mature enough to conceive at a young age, nor should we”.
As Christians we know that the Bible says in Genesis 1:27 that “male and female created he them”. And we know God is not going to change a woman’s ovaries to match our societal changes.
Instead our society must turn back to God so that our society matches the way he designed us as males and females both physiologically and psychologically. And the way we begin that change is in one Christian home at time.
Early Teen Women Are More Moldable
In the Scriptures we read the following passage from the Book of Jeremiah:
“1 The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying,
2 Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will cause thee to hear my words. 3 Then I went down to the potter’s house, and, behold, he wrought a work on the wheels. 4 And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it.
5 Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 6 O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the Lord. Behold, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel.”
Jeremiah 18:1-6 (KJV)
In the above passage God is speaking to Israel as his wife. The phrase “O house of Israel” is used in other passages like this one below when God refers to Israel as his wife and he as her husband:
“Surely as a wife treacherously departeth from her husband, so have ye dealt treacherously with me, O house of Israel, saith the Lord.”
Jeremiah 3:20 (KJV)
Just as God sought to mold his wife Israel to be the person, he wanted her to be, so to for a marriage to be successful a woman must be very moldable just like clay in the hands of a potter.
When women are in their early teens, they typically are more moldable but as they get older into their late teens and especially early 20s, they become much harder to mold or change in their person and habits.
And make no mistake this is EXACTLY why most people today oppose women marrying very young because they know they are so impressionable or moldable at that age. They don’t want men being able to mold young women so they want to delay marriage as a long as possible pushing it into the early and mid-20s.
Christians who follow this false philosophy that young women need “find themselves” and “be their own person” before marriage are going against God’s design.
Remember that God says marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church. Does Christ mold his church? You bet he does. And he tells men to love their wives as he does:
“25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; 26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, 27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.”
Ephesians 5:25-27 (KJV)
We are often told today that if a man attempts to mold or change his wife’s behavior at all that he is “controlling” and this bad. We are told that if a man truly loves his wife, he won’t try to change anything about her.
Well I can tell you based on the authority of the Scriptures above that if a man does not attempt to mold and shape his wife to present her to himself and to God as a glorious wife in the same way Christ does his church then he is not loving his wife as Christ loves the church.
And yes, it takes a sacrifice on our part as men and courage on our part as men to “rebuke and chasten” (Revelation 3:19) our wives as Christ does his churches. But when done in the correct spirit, such rebuke and chastening by husbands is called “love”.
Rebekah so here is the answer to your question – “Would society be better if we returned to the standard that girls could marry as soon as they menstruated and were capable of having kids?”
The answer first from the Bible is “YES”. But the like many other times we can see how God’s design plays out when we follow it and also when we disobey it. No one can argue with the cold hard facts that giving women independence from men in general and their fathers and husbands in particular has been good for the institution of marriage which God designed.
By taking away women’s dependence on men we have allowed women to dominate marriage and our society. Society is now ordered around how people feel rather than duty to God, family and country.
And the invention of the “teenager” as an extension of childhood has not been good for our society. It has led to rampant immorality and a complete lack of responsibility among our young people today.
I don’t think you were actually asking if your husband could do this but just if society would be better if we all turned back to this custom of marriage for young women.
However, if your daughters have demonstrated the signs God says that mark “the time of love” for a woman in that they have developed breasts, pubic hair and have begun menstruating and if your husband feels they are mature enough and ready for marriage there would be no sin in allowing them to marry.
Believe it or not there are still 15 states that allow marriage below the age of 14:
Also, several states allow 14, and 15-year old people to marry as well.
You can find the complete list of marriage by age by state here:
Answering the Scoffers
One of my favorite scoffers, Suzanne Titkemeyer, wrote a piece the other day about my review of the Handmaids Tale. I always chuckle a little when I read her stuff.
I will cover just a few areas that I think apply to this article in regards to the age of marriage.
“Why is it always these creeps, like Vaughn Ohlman,imaging young burgeoning breasts and periods as a marker for readiness? Notice that none of them view young boys of that age as ready for marriage. When they talk of men marrying it’s always men over the age of 21, while saddling them with a much too young girl.”
Suzanne, it is not me imaging breasts and periods as a marker for readiness, but rather the word of God which clearly states it as I showed above from Ezekiel 16:7-8 and 1 Corinthians 7:36. You may reject the Bible but it is my basis for truth.
And before I knew and understood these Scriptures and studied the history of the world, biology and marriage I probably would have agreed with you that early teens is too young for marriage for women. But back then I would have been going by what you are – my feelings and my culture. Instead of looking at marriage first through the lenses of the Bible, then history and biology. All of which support young marriage for women.
Also, on your view of boys. I don’t think they have to be over 21, although I think in most cases it would be wiser for them to wait. Why? Because they have to lead a woman and their family and they have to be able to provide for and protect their family. Especially on the provision front, for most young men it takes well into their early or mid-20s until they are ready to provide for a family. My 19-year-old son who is plumber is an exception. He makes over 60 K a year and could support a family. But he has to get some other things in line first.
I know you struggle with this concept, but young men and young women are different. They are designed by God for different roles. A young woman does not have to lead a home or provide for one. She simply has to manage it, therefore she can marry much younger than a man. Besides it is a biological fact as I showed above the early teens to the early 20s are “when the body is most adept at conception and carrying a baby”. I also showed that studies arguing for higher pregnancy related deaths or other health problems are using statistically insignificant differences between pubescent mothers and postpubescent mothers.
“In the United States this age can come at a very young time in a girl’s life. Menstruation ages have dropped, meaning what Larry is proposing here is that girls as young as 9 could be married.”
No not really. I have said on multiple occasions that I like the Jewish rule of minimum age of 12. The truth is that is extremely rare for a 9-year-old to have a period but then you are leaving out several other key factors in order to build your straw-man argument. I said the minimum age of marriage requires ALL of the following things – not just a girl having her period. She must have developed breasts, pubic hair, had a period AND her father must determine she is ready.
“My own cycle started at 11 years old, and I can tell you I was nowhere near ready to marry. I was still playing with my Barbies, riding my horse, going to Camp Fire Girls meetings, and giggling over how cute Donny Osmond was. My only adult actions and responsibilities revolved around caring for my horse.
Little girls should be free to ride their horses, or play with their dolls and coloring books, not forced into lifetime relationships and sex. We’ve talked about this so much here that I’m not even going to cite the statistics again that show how early marriage harms girls in every way, physically, emotionally, financially.”
Do you know why you were no nowhere near ready to marry at age 11 including manage a home and take care of children? Because you were raised in a culture that has vastly extended childhood far beyond what cultures in the past did. If you were raised in pre-modern times, especially medieval or ancient times you absolutely would have been preparing for marriage at 11 and most likely be married by 12 or 13.
You see that is one of the many differences between your world view and mine. You believe the purpose of little girls and by extension women is to live for themselves. Have fun and do whatever makes you happy (at a particular moment, because we know that changes every five minutes).
But other people who believe the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, such as myself, believe we were put here for more than riding horses and playing with toys. We believe life is about duty and honor and serving God. Sure, we can have happiness along the way, but if that is our central focus, we will not serve God.
And speaking of happiness. We understand a truth that utterly escapes most secularists and you as well. We understand that happiness is not simply a feeling, but it is also a choice. We can choose to be happy in whatever circumstances life brings us. This is special kind of joy that few people know or understand. We can choose to let God and his Word lead our hearts, instead of letting our hearts lead us.
I pray one day you will come to know these truths and accept Christ and his Word as they are and not as you would have them be.