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The Beauty and the Beast – smallpox and marriage in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Sweden

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Sköld, Peter

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Abstract The present study shows that physical attraction played an important role for marriage. Pockmarked persons married about two years later than persons without disfigured faces. Pockmarked men experienced similar disadvantages to women at the marriage market. It is the birth cohorts between the last decades of the eighteenth century and the first decades of the nineteenth century that are of most interest for the study. During the period when these cohorts were acting at the marriage market there was a fairly equal balance between persons who had a previous experience of smallpox and persons without facial pockmarks. This - historically unique - situation created a marriage pattern where previously infected persons married much later than 'healthy'. Pockmarked persons also faced a considerably greater risk of never marrying and when they did so, they almost always chose a partner with a similar experience of smallpox. Correspondingly 'healthy' persons chose to marry each other.
Keywords eighteenth century; nineteenth century; wedding; social attraction; contagious disease; Sweden; historical development; choice of partner; corporeality
Classification Social History, Historical Social Research
Free Keywords Heiratsmarkt
Document language English
Publication Year 2003
Page/Pages p. 141-161
Journal Historical Social Research, 28 (2003) 3
ISSN 0172-6404
Status Published Version; peer reviewed
Licence Creative Commons - Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works