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Delaying marriage till after 32 increases divorce risk

By Susan Gately - 25 July, 2015

weddingThis week Spain raised the minimum age for marriage to 16.  Before it was possible to be married in Spain aged fourteen with permission from a judge. The new law brings Spanish law into line with much of Europe.

High rates of divorce are associated with very early marriage, but a surprisingly a recent analysis of marriage statistics in the US has revealed that the optimum age for getting married and not ending up divorced, is from 28 to 32.  For every year after age 32, there is a five percent greater odds of the marriage ending in divorce.

Nicholas Wolfinger, a professor of Family and Consumer Studies and Adjunct Professor of Sociology at the University of Utah wrote about his analysis in Family Studies this month. In an article entitled  Want to avoid divorce – wait to get married, but not too long he noted that for years, it seemed like the longer you waited to marry, the better.

“That’s because the relationship between age at marriage and divorce risk was almost linear: The older you were, the lower the chances of divorce.”

But analysis of more recent data shows that those who tie the knot after their early thirties are more likely to divorce than those who marry in their late twenties.  Professor Wolfinge analyzed data collected between 2006 and 2010 from the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG).

His data analysis shows that prior to age 32 or so, each additional year of age at marriage reduces the odds of divorce by 11 percent. However, after that the odds of divorce increase by 5 percent per year.

How can this change be explained? he asks.  “Does the experience of staying unmarried well past the age of 30 somehow make people unfit for a lasting marriage?”

He envisions several scenarios that might make marriage difficult –  complicated relationship histories – exes playing havoc with a marriage, the temptation of adultery, ‘baby mama drama’ when there are children of other partners.  “Indeed, having multiple sexual partners prior to marriage significantly increases the chances of getting divorced,” he writes.

But none of this explains the relationship between age at marriage and marital stability. Prof Wolfinger suggests the reason is  on ‘selection effect’: “the kinds of people who wait till their thirties to get married may be the kinds of people who aren’t predisposed toward doing well in their marriages. For instance, some people seem to be congenitally cantankerous.”

He continues: “More generally, perhaps people who marry later face a pool of potential spouses that has been winnowed down to exclude the individuals most predisposed to succeed at matrimony,” he adds.

Commenting on his findings Tamara Rajakariar in  Mercator says perhaps the “selfishness of our culture that plays into it all as well”.  “By the time someone reaches 30, being self-centred is a trait that’s hard to budge – and a marriage that works is all about self-giving. Not to mention that compromise and changing your habits gets harder as the years go by and you get stuck in your ways.”

She suggests too that people who get married in their late thirties come up against a little more hardship, for example the struggle to have kids or sickness. Maybe, in a rush to be wedded, they settle for a partner who wasn’t the best match for them. Or possibly both partners are quite advanced in their careers by this stage, making it harder to leave time to nurture the relationship.”

The Catholic marriage care agency Accord asks couples to consider the question:  ‘Will you be giving anything up you don’t want to lose?’

“One of the biggest challenges married couples report is the loss of certain freedoms. You’ll need to account for each other’s feelings in the majority of decisions made, and this can be difficult for some people,” says a website blog. “Will these decisions mean giving up seeing friends, family or shying away from your career? Are there certain things you don’t want to let go of? Working these out before marriage is a positive step and will help begin it in a healthy and happy way.”


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