Attributes of Spinsterhood

Who is spinster? What makes a woman spinster?

How old unmarried woman can be considered spinster?

There has been different ideas of what age one can be considered spinster. The main idea is that spinster is a woman, who has passed the usual marital age. What that is depends on the specific society.

In many 19th century societies one was considered spinster after she reached the age of independence according to law, often at the age of 24. I have heard that in Finland there was until 70s even a special tax for spinsters and bachelors over 24 years of age.

According to the United Arab Emirates’ Khaleej Times 16 July 2004 spinsters would be women between 25 to 35 years of age. This is of course in Arab country, where girls are suppose to marry soon after becoming adults.

On the historical legal documents spinster can be legally already at the age of 8 or even younger. “Eliza O’Connell, d.11 Oct 1867, William Street, Listowel, spinster age 8, shopkeeper’s child, Jeremiah O’Connel present at death.” “Spinster, age of 2 weeks.” But then the legal definition of spinster (unmarried female) differs from social one.

The average marital age has rised some 4 years since 1960s in UK, but is still well under 30 for both men and women. Trends are similar in the most of the western world. Yet today many seem to consider that woman becomes spinster only after filling either 35 or 40 years age and has never been married.  When woman are now planning family and children even in late 30s and early 40s, may be it will go even higher.

On the other hand people seem to often consider themselves spinsters already after 30 years of age. It depends on the expectations in the circles and whether most of your friends are already married.  Some people I personally know consider the age to be 25, but that is quite low, I admit.

Are There Social Attributes of Spinsterhood more Important than Age?

Every one has heard stories of cat women and spinster aunts living with their married siblings.  The old lonely woman has been one of the most pathetic characters in our social imaginary may be besides the man under his wife’s rule.  

The modern situation is different and the situation of women, now well able to support them selves and socially acceptably living by them selves, instead of under chaperonage and support of the relatives. Older age care and pensions have taken away the need to have children to look after one self. The situation of modern spinsters is totally different than still in the 1950s.

The society has changed so much, that I think modern spinsterhood should be considered more as the state of mind than status. Modern spinsters are usually too picky to end up with the first man, they have wide circles of both female and male friends and careers and hobbies to fil their lives with. They are no longer lonely or pitiful.  

Further Reading:

Median Age at First Marriage in USA, 1890–2003

Over 30: Portraits of Unmarried Women by Barbara Colombo.

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