Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Betty by the Numbers: Ages

via email:
Betty by the Numbers: Ages
by Betty van den Betsy

The Unequal Marriage, by Vasili Pukirev, 1862
Wikipedia claims that average age at first marriage in the UK, as of 2005, was 31 for men and 29 for women, and in the Netherlands, as of some year later than 2000, also 31 for men but 28 for women. However, in 1963 the UK’s averages were 22 for women and 23 for men – so perhaps Betty’s heroines weren’t completely bonkers when they started getting nervous about being single at 27.

The UK’s Office for National Statistics reports that 26% of 1995 brides married younger men (7% married men more than six years younger), a significant increase from 15% in 1963. Germany’s Max Planck Institute, studying Danish marriages, found that a man married to a woman seven to nine years younger than he is 11% less likely to die prematurely than a man married to a woman his own age; a man whose wife is 15 to 17 years younger has a 20% lower chance of premature death. However, the younger wife is more likely to die young – and women married to younger men (seven to nine years younger) have even higher odds of premature death. Final serious-science note: University of Colorado researchers found that in most marriages where husband and wife are significantly different ages, in either direction, both spouses are likely to have lower earnings – though the women make up for that by working more hours.

Does any of this sound conclusive to you?

We certainly know how Betty felt on age difference in marriage: husbands should be at least seven years older than their wives. That’s the age difference for four of her marriages; the widest gap is the 18 years between Mary Jane’s 22 and Fabian’s 40 in Winter of Change (1975), and the most common is in the ten to thirteen-year range.

Betty specified the exact ages of 91% (123) of her heroines, from Polly Talbot’s 20 (Polly, 1984) to Julia Mitchell’s 30 (At the End of the Day, 1985). Just over 80% of them range from 23 to 27, with the greatest number, 25, clocking in at the high end of the range, at 27 years young, and the second-largest number, 22, coming in at the low end, having recently celebrated birthday 23.

On the men’s side, the youngster is 29-year old Ivo of The Fifth Day of Christmas (1971). Thirteen of them claim 40 years in their dishes, but most – 37, or 36% of the 103 men with specified ages – are 35 or 36, with another 36 heroes aged 37, 38 or 39. They’re all too young for me, according to the Planck people – or at least, they would be if I were Danish. Certainly some heroes have prior marriages behind them, but on the whole Betty seems to believe that an ideal husband is mid- to late-thirties, and he should marry a woman in her mid-twenties. May I confess I think 20 year-old Polly awfully young to be marrying?

Of those 102 marriages where I can arrive at an exact figure, because she gives the hero’s age instead of waffling about with a “well into his thirties”, the median age difference is 12 years. (The one marriage where we get the hero’s age (34) but not the heroine’s is Amabel’s and Oliver’s in Always and Forever (2001).) The majority, 56%, are in the 10-13 years-difference segment of the canon’s 7-18 year range

On a personal note, the Jonkheer is just over six years older than I, so I’d best wrap this up and get looking for a younger model, according to the Planck people – or an older one, if Betty’s recipe is right.

Tony Curtis, born 1925, with fifth or sixth wife (there’s some uncertainty about his possible fourth marriage) Jill Ann Vandenberg, born 1967? The marriage lasted from 1998 (left) until Curtis’s death in 2010 (right).

Dennis Kucinich, born 1946, with his third wife Elizabeth Kucinich, born 1977; married since 2005. Or call it Elizabeth with her first husband.

Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart y Silva, billionaire Spanish duchess born 1926, with third husband (she was widowed twice) Alfonso Diez, born 1949; they just married in 2011.

Zsa Zsa Gabor, born 1917, with ninth husband Frederic Prinz von Anhalt, born 1943? They celebrated their silver wedding anniversary in 2001, and remain married.

Diana, Princess of Wales, born 1961, with her only husband, Prince Charles, born 1948. Their marriage lasted from 1981 until their divorce in 1996 – they legally separated in 1992.

Kate Middleton and Prince William, both born 1982. Married in April 2011, first time for each, they are now the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

Camille Cosby, born 1945, and her first husband, Bill Cosby, born 1937. They’ve been married since 1964; in 1997 they suffered the violent death of their youngest son, 28-year old Ennis, in a street robbery.

The Duchess of Cornwall, born 1947, and Prince Charles, born 1948. They’ve been married since 2005 – second time for each, after a divorce apiece.


  1. Woweee! Betty van den Betsy! That was comprehensive!

    At 35 I am technically not too old for any of the heroes but have moved firmly into the voluptuous (no salt-cellar bosoms here!) widow category. I know I ought to be bloodless enough to enjoy only slight, un-disarranging kisses on my cheek.

    My own wedding to the little Mijnheer was when I was a lass of 21 and he a lad of 22. (Just perfect for us, if I may say so.) At that age, being looked at by someone older than 25 was creepy. We're set to celebrate our 14th (!) anniversary this year.

  2. Betty van den BetsyDecember 21, 2011 at 6:16 PM

    Betty Keira! Never tell us you spend "a good part of each day keeping middle age at bay"!

    Did you and the Mijnheer (does he know you call him "little" in public forums?) have some kind of counseling, class or compatibility testing before marriage? Or did you have great role models from whom you learned what to expect, provide and accept in marriage?

    I don't believe I know anyone who married at 21 and made it work. Congratulations to you both.

  3. Betty Barbara here--
    My age at marriage was 23 (almost 24), and my husband was 29(headed for 30). And it has been just perfect! We have celebrated wedding anniversary #39 and are half-way towards #40. My parents were also 6 years apart; his parents were only a year or so apart in age.
    So I have always cast a skeptical eye on those of Betty's romances where the age difference is greater than 10 years; greater that 15 years really pings my radar!

    Thank you Betty van den Betsy!! Your spreadsheet once again proves its awesomeness!!

  4. Betty van den Betsy, I am now spending considerable amounts of my time keeping middle age at bay. That would include slimming diets and miracle foundation garments but, after four pledges of affection, I am not fooling anybody.

    The Mijnheer and I didn't go to counseling but we did spend our courtship (all nine months!) snogging on a couch...I kid, I kid. (Actually, not much. We kept our lips locked, but our hands where we could see them.) Seriously though, I was lucky to meet a wonderful, patient, marriage-minded man early in life and I wasn't going to have to be asked twice!

    Was Betty Debbie even younger than I?

  5. I was a mere lass of 20 and Dr. van der Stevejinck was a lad of 21...and that was over 30 years ago. We had an even shorter courtship - we met on January 7, 1980 and were married June 25, 1980. Betty Keira and I joke that we married the same man. Our husbands are remarkably similar in many ways. The most important is that they love us, unconditionally.

    My daughter was even younger than I - she was just shy of 19. She had set her cap at an older man - I think he was 25 or 26...they've been married for nearly 10 years (I've already been asked to babysit while they take an anniversary trip some time this coming year!).

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  7. Let's try that again without the glaring (and confusing) typo:

    I've twice married younger men. Not on purpose: Betty Henry and I were born in the same year (1956) but he came six months after me. (We didn't meet for 15 more years, and we've both drawn a veil over any memories of each other in adolescence.)

    But Betty Ross is a lot younger. He was born late in 1959, so he's almost 4 years my junior.

    What balances that out, of course (other than our abiding passion for each other) is that he's an eldest child and I a youngest. I think birth order has a lot to do with a lot. Think of how almost all of the RDDs are eldests or onlys, as are most of the Aramintas & Olivias. It changes how you see the world.

    So, as the chronologically senior member of our happy band of misfit toys, I have a lot to say, but Betty Ross, as the only eldest child, stands his ground. Good on him, as the Brits would say.

    [That'll teach me not to use Preview!]

  8. Hoorah! Betty Magdalen is back! You have been busy, I daresay. I missed your input. If you missed Betty van den Betsy's guest post

    "Betty by the Numbers: Names" ,Dec 14, 2011

    you should read it. It's awesome!
    I'm glad you're back because I actually had a question for Betty Ross (Sun and Candlelight, Feb 22, 2010). If and when you have a spare moment. I just wanted to know if he was a kindred spirit - when he was little.

    When my parents married my mother was 21, my father 28, and they have been married for 54 years.
    When I went to uni (Brit alert?) one of the girls, 21, got engaged to a man twice her age, yes, 42 - and he looked older than that! Years later I heard that they had got married, but I don't know what became of them.
    And an aquaintance of mine had an affair with a man old enough to be her father for years and years - a married man at that (the wife safely away, living abroad). (Not her first affair with a married man either. Which is an absolute no-go if you ask me.) But then, get this, a younger man turned up, told her he'd wait for her and spent a couple of YEARS!!! wooing her. Successfully.
    Betty Anonymous

  9. Betty Anonymous -- I'll go look at Sun & Candlelight and see if Betty Ross is a kindred spirit. (If it involves sending a boy to boarding school at age 7, he's a kindred spirit.)

  10. Numbers.
    Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and the staggering number of things which I will have to do...
    But I'm looking forward to it all. There'll be a goose for dinner. Do you think that tomorrow night I will have to say "I've cooked my goose"?
    Betty Anonymous

  11. I was married at 22 and my husband was 21. We have been married for 40 years, recently celebrated on December 4th. I think age is a state of mind, it doesn't matter what age you or your partner are, you have to work at it and accept each other as you are. Don't think you can change a man after you're married it doesn't work, so just love and be happy together. My daughter is married to a man younger than herself and it seems to be working fine for them also. Merry Christmas from downunder, while you're roasting chestnuts by an open fire we are trying to keep cool in 30 degree heat, but one day I'll have a white christmas the other side of the world again.

  12. Merry Christmas, Betty Carla! I'll think of you roasting (chestnuts and yourselves) fondly tomorrow!

  13. Just home from midnight service, where I gleefully caroled my out-of-tune way through the hymnal, and got an extra-Christmasy feeling from attending to the altar before and after service (for what is Christmas, if not a constant rotation of making everything pretty, then messing it all up, then tidying?).

    Merry Christmas, everyone!

  14. Fabulous post, Betty van der Betsy. So statistically informative! And thanks everyone else for the interesting facts about husbands and marriage dates.
    Had a long distance relationship over many years and many countries. That was a great time but its also good to be married. He's one year older than I, the sweetest person ever but now that we are hosting the German ubersocial parents in HK nobody looks that rosy over Weihnachten ;-).

    Merry Christmas to TUJD crew and posters, its really made the party season more fun to read about funny Bettyness over my phone, pad etc.
    xxx Bety AnHK

  15. Merry Christmas, everyone!

    We have a beautiful tree this year. It was decorated yesterday, late in the afternoon, between working in the kitchen and taking the dog out for a walk. And it occurred to me, that I actually have two very Betty ornaments!
    Two circles of faux little red crab apples.

    And the reason they are Betty?

    I purchased them many, many years ago just before Sinterklaas avond.
    At "La Bonneterie" (La Maison de Bonneterie) in Amsterdam!!!
    One of them always sits at the very top of our tree.
    We had our Christmas dinner last night (because today we went out to a restaurant for (midday) dinner - A Kiss for Julie, "it's not lunch, it's midday dinner.")

    Christmas dinner:

    roast goose

    bread and sage dressing
    (bread, onions, diced, salt, pepper, dried sage, butter, hot water)

    baked sweet potato carrot dish
    (sweet potatoes and carrots, mashed, salt, pepper, nutmeg, a little brown sugar, butter, sour cream, 350°F/175°C 45-60min.)

    apple turnip bake
    (scalloped, but this year I diced everything, much easier to prepare that way. Turnips, cooked, save a little of the liquid, apples, raw or sautéd in butter, cream sauce: onion, diced, sautéd in butter, flour, salt, pepper, a little brown sugar, milk, saved liquid. Arrange in layers. Dry breadcrumbs, butter. 350°F/175°C 45 min.)

    Betty Side Dish by Chance:

    brussels sprouts
    (sprouts, cooked, save a little of the liquid, cream sauce: onion, sautéd in butter, flour, salt, pepper, a little brown sugar, milk, saved liquid)

    red wine lingonberry sauce
    (let caramelize 3-4 tbsp sugar, add 2 cups/500 mL red wine (moi buys the kind without alcohol), reduce to about 2/3 - 4/5 cup/150mL - 200mL. Add 2 tbsp lingonberry preserves or cranberry sauce, season with salt, pepper,and a dash of balsamico vingar.)

    lingonberry preserves (or cranberry sauce)

    Dinner was a great success. And Santa was of the opinion that I was a very good girl this year.
    God rest ye merry, Bettys all over the world.
    Betty Anonymous

  16. Betty Ross, Betty Henry and I are having not one, not two but THREE dinners worthy of The Great Betty.

    Last night, we had a crown roast of pork with apple stuffing and shredded Brussels sprouts with bacon. As we'd had Christmas cake (fruit cake, ten inches across, with an almond paste layer and a cream cheese frosting just because I hate royal icing) for tea, I didn't bother with dessert.

    Tonight, we're having garlic & rosemary-crusted leg of lamb with roast potatoes and asparagus, then Betty Ross's favorite: profiteroles for dessert!

    Tomorrow night, one of my favorite meals: sauerbraten with potato pancakes and red cabbage & apricots. I'm making a new recipe: blackberry slump for dessert (a white wine cake, berries & a crumb topping, served with lashings of whipped cream, I'm sure).

  17. Merry Christmas, dear Bettys!

    Wish I could drop in more often. I have three days off from work, from singing, and from baby duty (my grandson) and I'm almost feeling like a new woman. I miss the days when I had the energy of an Araminta, lol!

    We had a big Standing Rib dinner, quite Bettyish, celebrated with our daughter, son in law, grandson and grand doggies. Quite the day!

    We got married at 21 and nearly 24, and will celebrate 36 years next week. We just knew going in that we were going to make it. It is a decision we live out every day.

  18. Came over from the Betty by Numbers: Family post. Wonderful work you do and so helpful.

    I was 25 and the husband nearly 29 when we were married (12.5 years ago). It's been rocky (we wuz arranged), but we're together for now. My parents have a 5 year gap and they've been married since 1959 (but this is India and being together doesn't necessarily mean it's all roses).

    1. May I wish you the very best as you navigate your rocks? My heart and thoughts are with you and your family.