For better and for worse, the world has vastly changed over the past century. By 1918, the most popular vehicle was Henry Ford’s Model T and Charlie Chaplin was reigning supreme on screen. As World War I came to be, many men needed to vacate their jobs to serve in the war effort. Although women were still without voting rights, they took to the workforce en masse to fill the open positions. Other women also volunteered for active duty — a first in American history — and tens of thousands would go on to serve as Army and Navy nurses.

Relationships were also much different in those times. It wasn’t until the turn of the twentieth century that dating — as opposed to courtship — became customary. Some 50 years later, “free love” — or sex without commitment — would also come into the picture. With the century-long evolvement of romantic relationships, it’s not surprising that marriages would also be susceptible to change. What is surprising, however, is just how dramatically different these unions would become. Here’s how — and what — marriages changed in the past 100 years.

The reason for marrying began to shift

early 1900s wedding

While loveless marriages still exist today, you wouldn’t call them the norm. Right up until the end of the 18th century, though, love and marriage were mutually exclusive. “Marriage was far too important as a political and economic institution — it was the way the upper class signed peace treaties and made war,” Stephanie Coontz, a professor of history and family studies at Evergreen State College and director of research and public education for the Council on Contemporary Families, told Public Radio International (PRI). For middle-class folks, marriage was essentially a way to make a business arrangement and, for the lower class, “it was the way you got your working partner.”

It took a while for people to fully grasp the idea of love and marriage being two members of the same team. By the early 1900s, another mentality also worked its way into the equation. “We added to this the idea that marriage should be based on sexual attraction and fulfillment,” Coontz explained. Essentially, this is how the “opposites attract” philosophy got its start.

The marriage rate and the Great Depression

1930s wedding

Just because love and attraction became more and more important as the twentieth century progressed, waiting “too long” to marry was not exactly acceptable — and this was the case for both men and women. “There was a lot of social pressure from elites who could penalize people — as late as the 1950s and ’60s, a man who wasn’t married or who was divorced was often passed over for a promotion,” Coontz told PRI. And what about women? Well, as the professor explained, “a woman was just basically no where.” Sigh.

Although there was a ton of societal pressure to marry placed on the shoulders of men and women, the Great Depression had other ideas. According to History, high unemployment rates prevented couples from being able to afford to start families of their own. Likewise, the marriage rate in the United States fell a staggering 22 percent between the years of 1929 to 1933.

The “golden age of marriage” wasn’t really so golden

1950s wedding

Hope for marriage may have seemed lost by the ’30s, but World War II — and the subsequent “industrial boom”— brought with it a surge of matrimony. By the 1950s, the United States was entering its so-called “golden age of marriage.” But, as the old Shakespearean adage goes, all that glitters is not gold. This would be especially true of the ’50s marriage model.

“People look back to that as the traditional family, but it was probably the only time in history when a vast majority of women did not work,” Coontz told PRI. Men who farmed for a living were not accompanied by their wives nor were the men who ran small businesses. Thus, the “male breadwinner” dynamic took root, but, according to Coontz, that is “not the least bit traditional, and it was organized around these very rigid gender roles.”

Marriage would be complicated further because of quick six-month courtships, making it difficult for couples to truly get to know one another. That’s not to say all midcentury marriages were doomed, but, as Coontz said, “Basically you married a gender stereotype and you didn’t have a lot to negotiate.”

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