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Abstract Was the European marriage pattern an important contributor to England’s precocious economic development? This article examines this question by embedding the possibility in a historically substantiated demographic-economic model, supported by both cross-section and long time series evidence. Persistent high mortality and powerful mortality shocks in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries lowered life expectations. Subsequently increased life expectancy reduced the number of births necessary to achieve a given family size. Fewer births were achieved by a higher age at first marriage of females. Later marriage not only constrained population growth but also provided greater opportunities for female informal learning, especially through ‘service’. In a period when the family was the principal institution for socializing future workers, such learning was a significant contributor to the intergenerational transmission and accumulation of human capital. This article shows how, over the centuries, the gradual induced rise of human capital raised productivity and eventually brought about the industrial revolution. Without the contribution of late marriage to human capital accumulation broadly interpreted, real wages in England would not have increased strongly in the early nineteenth century and would have been much lower than actually achieved for several centuries.