In Joseph Smith’s lifetime, America’s population was essentially 90% rural and existed more or less in the Jeffersonian ideal of subsistence farming. These farms were nuclear family enterprises, not generally places of extended family dwellings. To operate a farm required cooperative distribution of labor, men generally cleared land and engaged in cultivation and hunting for food. Women engaged in disciplines of manufacture. Government reports indicate that 2/3 of all clothing and linen was produced in households in 1810 and shopkeepers in towns contracted with housewives to produce goods beyond home use. That production often functioned as payment for credit extended for farm implements and household tools and the like.
Life activities took place at home. Production and consumption and trade were local activities. Children were born at home, literacy was a home-centered goal for the most part. People generally did not live beyond their early 40s on average. Only one in eight persons survived beyond that age, and women had shorter lives than men, largely due to the frank problems of childbirth, an agonizing and dangerous thing. One third of children among white families died before age 15. Half of black children died in the same period. A woman might experience twelve or fifteen births. Home could not operate or survive without this tripartite existence. Despite the dangers, and the common law reductionism of female status in coverture, etc., women looked forward to marriage. It meant independence in the generally joint operation of the family farm. Otherwise, they were doomed to live in some other woman’s home. A prospect that meant limited freedom of activity and expression.
Forces of technology led to distribution and specialization of labor and consequent gradual liberalization in law and position for women (they finally got the vote a hundred years later). Those same forces gradually placed the necessity of marriage as necessary to life on an ever more shallow footing. Instead of segregation of labor, boundaries driven by biology melted away in large part. Two hundred years later, marriage rates are sinking fast.
Median age for marriage is now 27 for women, 29 for men and a large fraction of millennials will remain unmarried through age 40. Some predictions suggest that only 70% will marry, while for boomers the rate was 90%, Gen X: 82%. A Pew analysis predicts that 25% of Millennials will never marry and the number of singles who want to marry has dropped drastically over the last decade. Among black Americans, the percentage is 10 points higher. Issues involved include more desirable freedoms available to singles and financial issues play a significant role.
My own experience with single Mormons? Similar forces seem to be a work. I know of more and more single women, college graduates, capable, living in Utah, not Manhattan. Many of them have boyfriends, but no marriage plans. It seems to be a satisfying and comfortable lifestyle for many. And it has interesting consequences if the trend continues.