Not Just What You Said

State of the Union

Thank you to everyone who sounded off on Talk Tuesday! The discussion kicked off a little late and ran well into Wednesday morning. (Scribbles into calendar not to schedule opposite the State of the Union address next year. Rethinks Super Tuesday as well.) For the first part of this series, we are going to begin in the middle. Novel, eh? Consider it a page torn from George Lucas.

The Burning Question

Up for debate were the supports to the statistics claiming second marriage the most successful.

A Slight Detour Into Under the Bridge

But this blog post about an article about a press release about....

As luck would have it, a troll came along and posted a link to a Psychology Today reference on a blog selling Save Your Marriage secrets claiming my university-based and NCHS-based (30-year study) research could not possibly be correct.

In the interest of full disclosure, I did not ignore him. I did, however, send him a little note, which read, in pertinent part:

I would not be quoting a blog selling marriage saving secrets who references Psychology Today as a reference. Marriage statistics do not support his 30/60 mix without biasing. The closest you can come to his 30% is to cut the pool into non-Hispanic, non-college grad, under 26, and then it still would have to be rounded up a few percentage points.

The only way to get to the 60% your huckster is touting for second marriage divorce rate is to take all of the numbers (first and second) add them and subtract 13%. That is not a sustainable algorithm by any standard known to research. Second marriages last longer and are considered more successful.

You need to be able to read the numbers and do the math to understand.”

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

The definition of success was slightly ironic. Divorce was not a factor in determining success of the second marriage, as much as avoiding divorce was. Huh? Non-statistician terms, please?

Avoiding Divorce

Obviously, the first marriage was dissolved. (We will use the term “divorce” to include divorce, dissolution and annulment.) The comparison is which one lasted longer. The divorce rate statistics we will use have been being compiled since 1973 on first and second marriages beginning from 1950.

At the 5-year bench mark, nearly 16% of all first marriages have ended in divorce. In second marriages, almost 15% failed to make it to the 5-year mark. The majority of these marriages in both groups failed before they got to the 3-year mark.

The level of error is carried by the number of women who separate, but never divorce, from the first marriage. Approximately, 9% of all first marriages end in a separation which never results in divorce.

What is the difference?

The following documented, quantifiable factors affect the successful outcomes of marriage:

  • Age
  • Race
  • Education
  • Economic status
  • Employment status
  • Violence (specifically premarital rape)
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • Region and population density
  • Age difference between spouses
  • Crime rate
  • Number children (unwanted and wanted)
  • Timing of child’s birth
  • Religion
  • Familial history of divorce
  • Difference in race between spouses
  • Cohabitation before marriage

The Talk Tuesday audience touched on many of these factors. Without fail, the most decisive of the contributing factors in divorce of first marriages are the top five on the list. For second marriages, number and timing of children replace economic and employment status.

The Obvious

Age Counts

The characteristic which is not stagnant is age. Necessarily, we age whilst waiting for divorce, building a new relationship, operating in a second marriage, whether or not it also ends in divorce. Being older at the time of marriage, especially over the age of 25, translates into longer marriages.

Try It Before You Buy It

You would never consider buying a car without test driving it first. Ironically, more than 17% of couples marry the first time without living together. This number drops to around 4% for second marriages.

The More, The Merrier

Second marriages which begin with children from a prior relationship dissolve at an astounding 41% rate. For second marriages which introduce another child within seven months of marriage, the number jumps another 11%. Children complicate marriage, first and second.

Swimming in Numbers

With hundreds of pages of statistics, this post could become a thesis replete with charts and graphs. Instead, we are going to forego any further numbers in favor of the why’s and wherefore’s of how we get all these numbers.

Things to Think About

Some of the reasons topping the divorce Why? list are:

  • Infidelity
  • Abandonment
  • Abuse/Violence/Crime
  • Job Loss/Economic Hardship
  • Incompatibility
  • Ignorance (of the state of marriage)
  • Sexual Issues
  • Children
  • Belief Systems
  • Interference

While this list is not exhaustive, by any means, it is the basis of the remainder of this series. Where yesterday, the topic was why do second marriages last longer, we need to look more closely at why first marriages fail.


Were there some surprises in the numbers? How about surprises in the reasons? Did you find some factors you did not consider? How do you see children as a complicating factor for first marriages? How important is the low rate of premarital cohabitation?

(c) Ann Marie Dwyer 2012
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  1. Good comeback, but I usually ignore trolls. They’re always more trouble than its worth. I actually had one resort to making fun of my name when he ran out of anything intelligent to say. Your troll was probably divorced three times over, making him touchy over the subject matter.

    • ROFL! I love those. Shame is, the argument truly need not be long to exhaust the arsenal. Typically, they shoot their load in the first round.

      Thanks for stopping by to comment!

  2. Of all my friends and siblings who married, over 90% ended in divorce. My parents should have divorced, they didn’t even like each other. With such astounding statistics that you’ve shown here, it’s a wonder anyone over the age of 25 even bothers to get married anymore, unless of course spouse is rich, or awaiting a huge inheritance – those huge inheritances are great for keeping a marriage together!

    • Shame of it is, Marc, they rarely get what they pay for before the inheritance is gone!

      Ironically, not as many people are marrying as they once were and fewer are remarrying. But that, my friend, is fodder for another post altogether!

  3. I got married when I was well over 30 to a woman I had been with for 8 years, living together for 7.
    Most of the information above is incomprehensible to me,but from what I hear, my marriage is an exception.
    But it makes me happy, so…

    One question about the numbers (if it can be answered simply) is how accurate are the reporting of cause, and how is it quantified?

    • These numbers do not represent causality. They are merely the raw statistics and the determinant classifications, such as median income, employment status, race and age. It was of interest to me, as the study wore on, they ceased following the men. They focused on the women. They were able to keep tabs on them more closely despite their migration across the country. Men were lost to prisons, wars and simply vanished.

      You are the exception. How so will come clearer in subsequent posts in this series. So very glad you stopped by tonight.

  4. I am incapable of shock and awe, surprise is caused when someone jumps out of closets these days rather than something that I experience due to life in general. That being said, there were a couple of things that did indeed surprise me:

    First marriages were not preceded more often by co-habitation. What? You mean those little bunny rabbits weren’t just bouncing from bed to bed, apartment to apartment looking for the right mate?

    The only ‘reasons’ that came as somewhat of a surprise was the ‘sexual issues’. Okay already, how often and even how much fun it is changes over time. Getting a bit of heft in the bedroom may not work perfectly as we age, but really marriages fail because of it? I would say the people involved failed as there are ways to fix this one that are simple and straight forward depending upon the issue. If the ‘sexual issue’ led to infidelity that is simply someone being ignorant and not admitting the real problem.

    Children? How do they complicate, oh my let me count the ways. If you aren’t prepared for marriage how on the earth can you prepare for the addition of little people populating your life with their demands. Depending on the age and maturity of the partners, the addition of these adorable little additions is likely far to difficult to absorb.

    • While I was less surprised by the cohabitation rate, I was outright disturbed by the sexual issues. I am going to have to dedicate a post to it because the sheer magnitude of the psychological failure is enough to bring tears to the eyes. Some days, I wish we were a species who ate our young.

      That said, the maturity level is the biggest factor. The “inconvenience factor” is the next largest. (Think Susan Smith.) Again, this is probably going to span two posts…or perhaps its own series depending on the balance in the emotional capital bank after the next few posts.

      Hope you like the one which just went live, sis.

  5. Sorry I contributed on Wednesday for Talk Tuesday lol 😉

  6. bear

     /  January 26, 2012

    I saw a lot of reasons my marriages failed on the list above, but the one I didn’t see was lost interest, or when one takes a job with no status I became a nobody, as it was put.

    She was no longer interested because I wanted out of the pressure cooker. She was all about status and what the Joneses had. I could care less. Nothing changed other than my status, then the loss of interest started. Then it was over.

    And by the way that was 19 years of marriage.

    • When we get to the reasons part of the series, you will see one of the reasons develop into what you describe. As I have delved into the reasons, I am finding some can be grouped together, but others may take more than one post to be fully explored. Mayhap, I should pick your brain for a few more of the mechanical reasons to explain the 19 years.

  7. Were there some surprises in the numbers? No
    How about surprises in the reasons? No
    Did you find some factors you did not consider? No
    How do you see children as a complicating factor for first marriages? Let me count the ways….
    How important is the low rate of premarital cohabitation? Not imp. to me.

    I would have to take into account a lot of ‘society factors’. ie – are there less strictures against divorce and co-habitation? The rise of erotic images on television, movies, games…? Although humans are humans, I think society’s mores are a factor in many things. I’m sure you’ll get into all that at some point. I just hope I can wrap my brain around all of it!!! Angie

    • I am going to break it down into bite sized pieces. I needed a break. I had more numbers than I thought would interest anyone, but the why’s and wherefore’s everyone loves. I think you will like where this goes. I will say this…there are surprises in store.

  8. Living together is the best way to get to know one another well. In the case of my first marriage, kids did not come along for five years. Now….I didn’t realize it at the time, or maybe I did, but those kids were my salvation. I was determined to stick it out more because of all the divorces in my family, but having kids made me realize that they deserve better. They deserved a happier, healthier, more pride-worthy mom….so divorce set us all free. The “ex” is a better father to them now that we are not all under one roof. He’s not the father I would hope for, but he is certainly better.

    • The impetus for divorce is often removed from the problems. It sounds as though you all grew from the split.

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