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What were families like in the 1700s? How did couples meet and what were weddings like? What was it like to have a baby and raise a family in the 1700s? What did the average household look like? In this article, we’re exploring what it was like to get married and have children in the 1700s (or the 18th Century). Ready to travel back in time? Keep reading.

Marriage and Childbirth

Marrying a person for love was rare in the 1700s. Most married for money or status. Well-to-do women almost always married wealthy men and men always married upper-class women. Otherwise, they would face major humiliation from their families and social circles. Wealthy people believed that a poor woman wouldn’t possess the social graces necessary to fit in with their class.

 

Although middle-class status was not common in the 1700s because most people were either wealthy or poor, middle-class individuals had more freedom to marry whomever they choose. Women of the middle class were expected to marry up, although they still had more choice of their own than a wealthier woman might.

 

Sometimes, women of lower-class families were months pregnant before marrying because the families wanted to ensure fertility before the marriage was official. And even though childbirth was dangerous, most women became pregnant many times in their lives. Miscarriages and infant death were common but multiple children were expected regardless.

 

The cost of having a baby was much different in the 18th century. Today, couples can expect to pay an average of $10,000 to $15,000 for the birth of their baby as long as no complications occur. It’s difficult to compare these numbers to what it might have cost the average parent in the 1700s to give birth, but there are other major differences to note.

 

In the 18th century, any woman, rich or poor, had a midwife or birth attendant with her and most procedures and painkillers were rarely prescribed if even available to mothers. And wealthy mothers who could afford it would have a live-in wet nurse, which is another mother who recently gave birth and who feeds both babies.

Children and Home Life

A common household in the 1700s consisted of a mother and father, an average of five or more children, and almost always included the grandparents living all under the same roof. Children were commonly thought of as assets that would care for parents in their old age. If a family lived on a farm, children were also highly important for helping with the work.

 

You will often see photos of children dressed as adults in this time period, but that isn’t just dress up for picture day. Children were frequently treated as adults and weren’t given much time for free play, although they made up games and found ways to have fun, as children do.

 

Children aged three to six years old all wore similar clothing. They wore a dress, many petticoats, and no underwear to make it easier for the child to go to the bathroom. The dresses also made it impossible to distinguish whether the child was a boy or a girl, only being able to tell by a square collar that boys often wore.

 

Upper-class children received some education compared to virtually none at all for poorer families. Boys often followed their father's footsteps in farming or whatever business they conducted. Some were sent to apprenticeships in trades to later open their own shop. Children of this time were highly independent because the natural parenting style at the time encouraged self-discipline. Today, we can take opportunities like these to teach independence and discipline without breaking any child labor laws.

 

Sadly, children of poorer households often wound up committing crimes just to get by. A child caught pickpocketing or stealing food from a market vendor was punished as an adult and often had their hands or fingers cut off for stealing.

 

Childhood in the 1700s was vastly different between poor and rich families. Wealthier children were educated and rarely (if ever) committed a crime because there was no need. Every one of their needs was met, and they spent their free time with tutors learning to read and play musical instruments. Wealthy families sent their grown-up boys to university and girls to finishing school.

 

Marriage, children, and home life was very different in the 1700s than we know it to be today. Social classes were rigid at this time as in you were either rich or poor and this predetermined much of your life. It’s interesting to know where our society has come from and to consider the things we still hold onto today and what has drastically changed.

 

About The Author

Avery T. Phillips is a freelance human being with too much to say. She loves nature and examining human interactions with the world. Comment or tweet her @a_taylorian with any questions or suggestions.