Recently, the Washington Post published the article “The best age to get married if you don’t want to get divorced”.
Obviously, the best strategy to avoid divorce is to simply not get married at all. If you however prefer sticking to this centuries-old ritual, you may at least want to minimize the risk of divorce as a split-up’s side-effects such as emotional disorder and high financial costs are commonly perceived negatively. Nicholas H. Wolfinger’s (a sociologist at the University of Utah) findings help couples to identify an ideal age of permanently binding themselves to one another. His main advise is “Wait to get married but not too long.”.
In former times in the US the relationship between age at marriage and divorce risk was negative and almost linear: The older you were, the lower the chances of divorce. “It’s no mystery why people who marry as teens face a high risk of divorce. Just recall your high school boyfriend or girlfriend. Along with the exhilaration of first love often came jealousy, insecurity, pressure from parents or friends, and tearful doubts about the future. Now imagine getting married under the same conditions. […] Most youthful couples simply do not have the maturity, coping skills, and social support it takes to make marriage work. In the face of routine marital problems, teens and young twenty-somethings lack the wherewithal necessary for happy resolutions.”
Postponing marriage until the mid-twenties sharply declined the divorce risk but also past this age the risk still decreased although at a lower rate.
The analysis of recent data in contrast suggests that the negative relationship between age at marriage and divorce risk is not present any more throughout the entire life span. Whereas teen marriages are still highly risky, data shows a trend reversal thereafter. Wolfinger analyzed data collected between 2006 and 2010 and finds “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. The change in slopes is statistically significant.” It seems that he detected an ideal age for marriage: somewhere around 30.
Wolfinger uses generalized additive models (GAM) that permit non-linear, non-parametrically estimated functional forms in regression models and are therefore ideal candidates to find out more about the shape of dependent effects. I love playing around with data and I am a big fan of GAMs. So I decided to re-do Wolfinger’s calculations with data from my home country Austria. Although Wolfinger states the main class of statistical models he uses to perform this study, any kind of details are left out. Besides that, Statistics Austria does only provide highly aggregated data and prohibits certain data combinations that would be essential to perform such a kind of analysis. Still, I tried to use all the publicly available data together with a powerful collection of statistical tools to analyses the relationship between age at marriage and divorce risk in Austria for the year 2014. I had to rely on (at least for statisticians) highly unattractive things such as averaging, constancy assumptions, poor model performances and extrapolations. This is why details should be interpreted with care. Still, I am convinced that my methodology is able to measure the general tendencies in the relationship of interest.
I performed the analysis separately for women and men as the usual age for getting married is still very distinct (men 32.4 and women 30.0 years). The figures below show the results.
The risk of divorce sharply declines with age until around 30 for men and 28 for women. Thereafter the risk more or less stabilizes. (It slightly rises until the age of 35 before it decreases again at a very low rate.) It seems that in Austria postponing marriage leads to an almost ever-decreasing risk of divorce. (This is even better seen for the long data series until the age of 60, although less observations in this age groups may bias the results.)
So, marrying around the age of 30 seems to be a good deal for Austrian couples that do not want to wait to get married until they reach their 50ths or 60ths. Couples tying the knot later in their lifes can expect a long/ever-lasting (hopefully happy) marriage.
(And for all kids reading this post: Please don’t marry your first love… He/she is probably not Mr. or Ms. Right…)