Wouldn’t it be great if there was a formula to predicting marriage longevity?
You meet someone great, you date for a while, and then you start to think about getting married. So you whip out your checklist and see if everything adds up. Yes, you conclude, we can take the plunge because there’s no risk in us getting divorced. Weddings bells, ring out!
Unfortunately, there is no magic formula to predict whether or not a marriage will last.
In her book The Good News About Marriage (2014), author and researcher Shaunti Feldhahn not only displaces cultural myths about the divorce rate (which is closer to 31% than 50% for all marriages) but describes the factors, both emotional and social, that impact the risk of a couple’s divorce.
And in her years of research, Shaunti found that among those factors there are four main lifestyle and demographic choices that can impact your marriage’s longevity (even lowering a couple’s risk of divorce to 5 to 10 percent!):
1. Age of first marriage
Couples who choose to marry in their mid-twenties or later have a higher chance of making it to their 20th anniversary than couples who marry in their late teens or early twenties.
Marrying young has often been cited as a contributing factor for marriage dissolution, as those who marry before their late twenties or early thirties can sometimes lack the personal insight, financial stability, and understanding of the commitment of marriage simply based on limited life experience.
2. Both individuals have a college education
Feldhahn cites the work of marriage researcher Andrew Cherlin who found that college education alone drops the divorce rate to one in six marriages for the first decade after the wedding, and The National Center for Health Statistics found that women who earned a bachelor’s degree had a 78% chance of their marriage lasting at least 20 years, compared to women who have a high school education or less (40% chance).
While there appears to be no concrete reason as to why this occurs, most researchers agree college-educated couples are more likely to marry later in life and be more financially secure than their less educated counterparts, thereby setting themselves up for a more stable marriage.
3. Choosing not to live together before getting married
Well-known sociologist Dr. Scott Stanley has spent years through the University of Denver researching the impact of cohabitation prior to marriage. He calls this the Sliding vs. Deciding phenomenon. Cohabitating couples are more likely to slide into long-term commitments, including marriage, unlike non-cohabitating couples who are better suited to make a decision to marry free of lifestyle restraints. Cohabitating couples often find themselves sliding from one relationship stage to the next because they are linked through a living situation and possibly finances, even if they would not have necessarily made the decision to marry their partner if they were not living together.
You can read more about Sliding vs. Deciding on Dr. Stanley’s website by clicking here.
4. Regularly attending religious services together
Possibly one of the most intriguing areas of study Feldhahn cites is the impact church attendance has on the chances of a couple remaining married.
In a study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, three sociologists studied three thousand first marriages over a period of five years and found that marriages in which both spouses share the same faith and regularly attend services together have 35 to 50 percent lower odds of divorcing than even same-faith couples who do not regularly attend services together.
In fact, those who attend church lower their chance of divorce by 25 to 50 percent compared to those who do not identify as religious or attend services. All that to say, regular church attendance alone has a huge impact on the health of a couple’s relationship. Feldhahn also found that activities like praying together or being part of a faith-based community results in increased levels of marital happiness. Isn’t that amazing?
Now, don’t panic if you are married (or not) and don’t fall into one or more of these categories (for example, my parents married at 20 and 21, didn’t go to college, and have been happily married for 38 years!). There is no one factor that contributes to whether or not a couple will divorce. However, when it comes to certain lifestyle choices you have control over, these four factors have been proven to contribute to a long-lasting, happy union.
What do you think? Do you agree with this research?
Julia writes about relationships, faith and identity at hellosoulblog.com.