I think that marriage between an young man and a teenage girl is a fine cultural norm- with five to fifteen years difference in age on the average, and maybe more in some cases, if the girl is focused on the spiritual and emotional advantages of such an arrangment.
While such things are a matter of opinion, I do think that tradition in general favors this norm. Joseph and Mary in the Bible lived in a time when families "arranged" marriages with the girl at 15 and the man at 30. Men had an "extended adolesence", not women.
In our modern culture, similar age unions have been enforced through coeducation, campus "parties" and movies that glorify these institutions. Women have been vulnerable to date rape and a lack of commitment arising from enflamed but only temporary male passions, and even some "good guys" become "good byes".
Previously, young women 16 to 21 were protected by society and given less mobility. Their blossoming desirability was regarded as a cultural treasure to be protected and then bestowed on honorable young men 21 to 31 by honorable older men, that is, by the girls fathers, with some chaperoned time for her to be persuaded or "wooed" and the final descision given to the girl.
Now, after the backlash of undue female vulnerability and mobility, women sometimes are now open to older men, but usually later in life, after a failed first marriage or after several "break-ups". It saddens me that parents balk at a ten or even five years difference for their 18 year old daughter's suitors while they give strong approval to the possibility of their daughter's being seduced and then dumped by a savvy or changable boy she meets at college. Do they really expect that most girls will meet a stable lifelong partner there?
I question the value that we have placed on coeducation in high school and college. It is true that platonic friendships formed at these institutions are often precious and memorable. However, it is also true that sexual mishaps take place at school that damage people for life. We could ameliorate the temptation for short-lived same-age fornication-relationships if our culture said, "OK, coeducation has some value, but we will make a joint effort to set up younger women with older men for marriage in general."
Same age is great for friendships, but not so wonderful for lasting marriage in general. The overall trend is what I am talking about. Nobody can deny that our coeducation culture places embarrasment and shame on wider age differences than four years in young couples, though it hypocritically accepts a greater age difference for older couples on second marriages. Our present culture accepts frequent divorce and remarriage and denies that this is hurting the children and the sanctity of marriage. Our culture makes light of its shame- the emotional mediocrity of "living together", the pain of divorce, the quiet humiliation of many sexually defrauded men, the lonliness of single women raising children, the frequent neglect of children, and the murder of children in the womb. People don't want to admit that their painful experiences say anything about broad patterns and values. Why? Because they percieve an implied cultural restriction on their freedom that a thoughtful evaluation of our recent cultural experiences would suggest.
Our culture has been all about the lonely search for personal freedom over and against cultural restraints- that is, the anonymity of non-community. It should be seen that the lack of real community does not bring men and women together. The campus is the last bit of psuedeo-community that a young person may have before he or she is thrust into the metro-corporate world- "Mac-world".
"Stand at the crossroads and look. Ask for the ancient paths. Ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you shall find rest for your souls."
"A young man meets a girl" - that is the heart of a culture! Where and how this happens can run in a range of possibilities from "traditional" to "modern". How shall a culture arrange that "a young man meets a girl"? through an arranged marriage? through a parentally arranged meeting? through a parentally arranged party? at a church? through coeducation, with its immature peer pressure? through the workplace, whose coed culture is often limited to upper management? At a bar? at a dating service? through the internet? Make your decision, Culture! Where shall they come together and how?
A difference in age is natural for couples, but the "McWorld" economy can't support it until the girls are older and less under their parent's authority. Girls are taught to value autonomy and mobility over patriarchal authority and protection. Off to college they go, with parental financial support, or with government loans, to party and put off marriage for their careers. Therefore, women often marry far past their prime. It is such a waste, and a crime against the men of the culture.
Why not "set up" teenage girls to marry 20's or even early 30's men examined by the parents of the girl? Is it unfair to the girls? Is it economically impractical? Why is a "dowery" out of the question? Is it possible that our enculturation has led us to invest in the stock market rather than in the next generation? Has corporate wealth really trickled down abundantly?
Why is it so hard to keep a small business afloat today? Is it entirely because of the natural advertising and distributing power of large businesses? Is it not also often because big businesses have deliberately agreed to block out small business competition?
I suggest that parents consider practically "arranging" marriages for their daughters until cultural and economic strength is restored. They should not force a marriage, but influence them winsomely, with humor, respect, thoughtful persuasion, helpful books and careful "deprograming" of the big city "dating" ideal, while listening to their daughter's expressed desires. Parents ought not to give up their influence, but use it wisely, knowing they must soon see it diminish as their daughter gets older and begins to look for her own opportunities. The emasculation of culture- the helpless capitulation of the parent's wishes to youthful impulse, and to the economic exploitation of the same- is appalling and unnecessary.
A one to three year betrothal period (Legally married, but submitting to the parents to hold off sexual consumation until economic preparations are made) could ease the transition for girls from late adolescence to adulthood, by settling questions and focusing them on the goal of preparing for the responsibilities of sexual union. It would ease the transition for young men by relieving them of the burden of "hunting", helping them focus on their careers in preparation for marriage.
A prospective dowery in view would help the young man to to keep clear goals in sight. He would expect the girl's family to "invest" in him when he showed himself to be morally and financially responsible.
Think how much youthful energy is wasted on anxieties about romance, and on trying to attract, persuade or gain the respect of the opposite sex. This energy has been exploited for commercial gain by entertainment corporations. Parents should focus on transfering the family cultural and economic base from to the younger generation. Parents cannot do this alone, they need a culture to work with. Each family should be tied to other families in a community. Such communities can give birth to new communities of families. The family itself is a kind of small business, and small businesses working together in a community would seem to promote family empowerment better than the economic and cultural patterns of large corporations.
It is true that the teenage girl getting married will have to postpone other interests for a few years. Perhaps she can take college credit courses on the internet while she watches her young children. By the time her children are past toddler stage, she can hire a baby sitter or share responsiblities with the extended family. By having children sooner, the woman will have the energy she needs for young children and still be fairly young when as she enters the work force. When her children are old enough for a baby sitter, she can enter work first part time, then full time.
This acceleration of the woman's career compliments the rhythm of the husband's career, in a sort of "one-two punch". The age difference between husband and wife promotes well planned economic growth. The husband's and wife's complimentary careers sustain a healthy rhythm of love and provision from generation to generation. Parents who sponsor the training of their sons well and the initial expenses of their daughter's marriage are financially cared for in their old age by their children.
Parents can covenant with their children and work with other parents for far reaching goals so that the next generation can be fulfilled and prosperous, in some cases purchasing cheap real estate and planning communities with other families where their children will often make direct profit from their own business rather than indirect profit from a wage, franchise, or rented space.
The career interest of the woman should pull the family together, rather than tear it apart. Ideally it would be community based or operating out of the home. The husband would not feel threatened by his wife's progress; he would gladly give his earnings to invest in his wife's business, as long as she was not away too much of the time. The "wife of noble character" described in the last chapter of the Book of Proverbs is not just a "stay at home mom", but is also a hard working entrepreneur whose husband's success provides capital for her own home-based business.
The model of culture and economic growth I am proposing could be called "Neo Traditional". It would acknowledge the gains made in history, particularly in repect to women's rights and women's roles in the marketplace, but it would also acknowledge the benefits of more parental involvment in finding and screening suitors, and a younger marriage age for women than we now see, and a greater intergenerational investment, or non-interest loan from the parents, with a greater obligation in return to the parents' old age. I call for a shoring up of cultural norms that have been long lost and seek through them a better moderating of conflicting gender interests. I would hope for a gentle "patriarchy", implemented with a team spirit by both parents, with more parental persuasion and earnest appeal than force or bravado. "Fathers, do not exasperate your children, that they may not lose heart." "My son, do not forsake your mother's teaching."