In a general lithospheric model of a simple divergent ocean and continental margin that satisfies the constraints of isostasy and gravity anomalies, the free-air gravity anomaly at the margin is modelled by an oceanic crust that thickens exponentially toward the margin from its common value of 6.4 km about 600 km from the margin to 17.7 km at the margin; this postulated thickening is supported empirically by seismic refraction measurements made near continental margins. The thickness of the oceanic crust matches that of the continental lithosphere at breakup, as observed today in Afar and East Africa, and is interpreted as the initial oceanic surface layer chilled against the continental lithosphere. With continued plate accretion, the chilled oceanic crust thins exponentially to a steadystate thickness, which is achieved about 40 m.y. after breakup. These findings contrast with the generally held view that the oceanic crust has a uniform thickness. During the first 40 m.y. of spreading, the thicker oceanic crust, of density 2.86 g/cm3, displaces the denser (3.32 g/cm3) subjacent material; by isostasy, the spreading ridge and the rest of the seafloor thus stand higher in younger (<40 m.y.) oceans than they do in older (>40 m.y.) oceans. This is postulated to be the cause of the empirical relationship between the crestal depth of spreading ridges and the age (or half-width) of ocean basins.