Adaptation to ecologically distinct environments can coincide with the emergence of reproductive barriers. The outcome of this process is highly variable and can range along a continuum from weak population differentiation all the way to complete, genome-wide divergence. The factors determining how far diverging taxa will move along this continuum remain poorly understood but are most profitably investigated in taxa under replicate divergence. Here, we explore determinants of progress towards speciation by comparing phenotypic and molecular divergence within young (<150 years) lake-stream stickleback pairs from Central Europe to divergence in older (thousands of years) archetypal lake-stream pairs from Vancouver Island, Canada. We generally find relatively weak divergence in most aspects of foraging morphology (gill raker number, body shape) in the European pairs, although substantial adaptive divergence is seen in gill raker length. Combined with striking overall phenotypic differences between the continents, this argues for genetic and time constraints on adaptive divergence in the European pairs. The European lake-stream pairs also do not display the strong habitat-related differentiation in neutral (microsatellite) markers seen in the Canadian watersheds. This indicates either the lack of strong reproductive barriers owing to weak adaptive divergence, or alternatively that neutral markers are poorly suited for detecting reproductive barriers if these emerge rapidly. Overall, our comparative approach suggests constraints on speciation due to genetic architecture and limited time for divergence. The relative importance of these factors remains to be quantified by future investigation.