In many parts of Western Europe the age at first marriage and the level of celibacy declined in the second half of the 19th century. This weakening of the European marriage pattern (EMP) can be interpreted as a ‘‘classic’’ response to the increase of the standard of living, but a more far-reaching interpretation is that the erosion of the EMP was part of a
cultural shift characterized by the rise of a new, less instrumental and more egalitarian view on marriage and partner selection. The latter vision implies the increase of the preference for a same age marriage. We test this explanation by using a combined Belgian-Dutch data set of marriage certificates (N = 766,412). Our findings corroborate the ‘‘cultural shift thesis.’’
Key words: love; marriage; social trends/social change; union formation.