There are a number of revelations regarding the historical marriage and divorce trends of couples in the U.S. that can be uncovered by examining statistical data. An in-depth review of the data shows that marriage and divorce rates typically fluctuate based on a variety of societal and cultural influences.
It also reveals that the age at which people marry and divorce often changes based on a number of factors. For example, in the last 20 years there has been a surge in the number of “gray divorces” – couples who are 50 or older who decide to end their marriage.
That information is what University of Utah professor Nicholas Wolfinger was interested in taking a closer look at. Wolfinger, who is a professor of family and consumer studies and adjunct professor of sociology, recently conducted a study that revealed a trend between the age at which couples marries and their odds of getting a divorce.
His report, which was published on a blog for the Institute for Family Studies, showed that people who marry at 25 are more than 50 percent less likely to get a divorce than those who wed at 20. Until age 32, each additional year of age at the time of marriage reduces the chances of divorce by 11 percent. But after age 32, the odds of eventually divorcing increase by 5 percent each year.
Dr. Wolfinger recently spoke with DadsDivorce.com about how he conducted his research, what was surprising about his findings, and what it all means in a historical and cultural context.
Can you begin by explaining how your research was conducted and what it uncovered? In what age range to couples seem to be the most susceptible for divorce?
The way I conducted the study is by analyzing a national dataset. These are data put out by the Center for Vital Statistics.
So the government collects the data, and this is thousands upon thousands of people. Since it’s a random sample, it approximates the U.S. population as a whole.
I was interested in revisiting the relationship between age of marriage and divorce because no research in this area has been conducted in a few years. Up until I did the work, we were all working under the assumptions of previous findings.
In the past, this story has been very simple, the older you were when you got married, the less likely you were to get divorced, period. No new estimates have been produced for a while and the world is changing – it’s changing slowly, but it’s changing – so I decided to update the research.
What I found surprised me greatly. The traditional story is still true if you’re talking about the span of time between your teenage years and your late 20s. Within that timespan, the older you are when you get married, the less likely you are to get divorced.
What’s new that I found is that after your early 30s, the divorce rate starts going up again so it is now a U-shaped relationship rather than the steady decline it always used to be.
So at this point, based upon your marriage age, if you marry in your late 20s or early 30s, you have the lowest divorce rate. Thereafter the rate starts to pick up again.
There are a number of social and demographic variables that could factor into why couples end up divorcing. But this pattern persisted even after controlling for a number of those factors, correct?
Yes, that’s the standard social science research approach. You take everything you have ready access to – standard demographic stuff like race, age, where you live in the country and so forth, and you see if you can explain your finding.
So once we adjusted for those factors, we found that the effect was weaker, but just a bit, so there’s still a story going on.
Marrying past your early 30s still increases your divorce rate after we account for those factors, but not as much.
This is obviously just speculation, but do you have any theories that would explain why more people who marry later on are getting divorced more frequently?
Here’s my speculation: The median age in marriage is as high as it’s ever been – it’s close to 30. People are waiting a long time to marry.
One reason that older people – people older than their early 30s – might have higher divorce rates is because they have baggage. They’ve been in a lot of relationships, they may have had children out of wedlock, or had partners who gave birth out of wedlock.
Common sense is that if you have a lot of baggage, maybe it affects the stability of your marriage.
So who’s left? The kind of people who aren’t good bets to have stable marriages. People who are untraditional, people who have problems with fidelity and they spend too much time on Ashley Madison.
Those are people who are bad bets for lasting marriage and so if they do get married, they end up getting divorced more.