Will Your Marriage Beat the Odds?

Demographic information is becoming a popular method to gauge the duration and success of a marriage. Researchers have found that everything from religion to cancer and from smoking habits to the gender of your children can predict how likely it is that your relationship will endure. Author Anneli Rufus recently wrote an article titled "15 Ways to Predict Divorce" in The Daily Beast where she assembled research and composed an analysis of fifteen points for determining the probability of a lasting marriage based on the characteristics and lifestyle of the couple. Can the data from researchers around the country predict the future of your relationship? Here are 15 ways to monitor your marriage.

The Results

  1. Nationality: between 40 and 50 percent of American marriages end in divorce. (Source: David Popenoe, "The Future of Marriage in America," University of Virginia/National Marriage Project/The State of Our Unions, 2007)
  2. Political affiliation: so-called "red state" residents are 27 percent more likely to divorce than those in more politically moderate states. (Source: National Vital Statistics Report, 2003; cited in The Compassionate Community: Ten Values to Unite America, by Jonathan Miller and Al Gore)
  3. Financial stability: the more you argue about finances, the more likely you are to get divorced; if you can keep finance-related disagreements to one or less per week, you increase your chances of a successful marriage by 30 percent. (Source: Jeffrey Dew, "Bank on It: Thrifty Couples Are the Happiest," University of Virginia/National Marriage Project/The State of Our Unions, 2009)
  4. Your parents' marriage history: children of divorce are upwards of 40 percent more likely to divorce themselves. That numbers shoots up dramatically to 91 percent if your parents have subsequent marriages. (Source: Nicholas Wolfinger, Understanding the Divorce Cycle, Cambridge University Press, 2005)
  5. Smoking: if one partner smokes (and the other one doesn't), a divorce is between 75 and 91 percent more likely than if both smoke or both do not. It seems apparent that the more people have in common, the more they can share together and understand one another. Common interests present more opportunity for agreement and less opportunity for disagreement. (Source: Rebecca Kippen, Bruce Chapman and Peng Yu, "What's Love Got to Do with It? Homogamy and Dyadic Approaches to Understanding Marital Instability," Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, 2009)
  6. Gender of your children: parents of sons are five percent less likely to split up than parents of girls, and the numbers multiply with each addition to the family. Outwardly, one can conclude from this statistic that modern society still values boys more than girls. (Source: Gordon Dahl and Enrico Moretti, "The Demand for Sons," published in the Review of Economic Studies, 2005)
  7. Religious affiliation: Evangelical Christians have a 26 percent likelihood of divorce, compared to 30 percent for atheists and 38 percent for non-Christians. (Source: The Barna Group, "Divorce Among Adults Who Have Been Married," 2008)
  8. Location, location, location: the largely rural area of Wayne County, Indiana, has the dubious distinction of having the nation's highest per-capita divorce rate at 19.2 percent. Monroe County in Florida comes in second place at 18 percent. (Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2008 estimates)
  9. Second or third marriages: if both you and your spouse have both been married before, you are 90 percent more likely to get divorced. No one should feel doomed by this statistic, however - this does not differentiate between those who have been married only once before from those who have been married five times before. Also, if you married young the first time, you are more likely to grow and change over time, making a second marriage more likely to both happen and succeed. However, if you are in your 30's or older and emotionally mature at the time of the second marriage, the chances of the marriage lasting are better than 10 percent. (Source: Rebecca Kippen, Bruce Chapman and Peng Yu, "What's Love Got to Do With It? Homogamy and Dyadic Approaches to Understanding Marital Instability," Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, 2009)
  10. Age: typically, the younger you are when you get married, the more likely you are to get divorced, but if the wife is more than two years older than the husband, divorce is 53 percent more likely than if the husband was older. (Source: Rebecca Kippen, Bruce Chapman and Peng Yu, "What's Love Got to Do With It? Homogamy and Dyadic Approaches to Understanding Marital Instability," Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, 2009)
  11. I.Q.: "below average" intelligence causes 50 percent more divorce than "above average" intelligence. (Source: Linda S. Gottfredson, "The General Intelligence Factor," Scientific American, Winter 1998, and Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles A. Murray, The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, Simon & Schuster, 1994, page 176)
  12. "Intimate" cancers: women who receive a cervical cancer diagnosis are 40 percent more likely to get divorced, those with breast cancer are eight percent more likely, and testicular cancers cause 20 percent more divorces. (Source: Astri Syse, "Couples More Likely to Divorce if Spouse Develops Cervical or Testicular Cancer," study presented at the European Cancer Conference, 2007)
  13. Multiple births: twins or triplets cause huge financial and emotional strains, which translates into a 17 percent higher rate of divorce. (Source: Stephen McKay, "The Effects of Twins and Multiple Births on Families and Their Living Standards," Twins and Multiple Births Association, 2010)
  14. Cohabitation: as a woman, if you have been in more than one long-term cohabitating relationship prior to your marriage, you are over 40 percent more likely to divorce. (Source: Daniel T. Lichter, Zhenchao Qian, "Serial Cohabitation: Implications for Marriage, Divorce, and Public Policy," Brown University Population and Training Center, 2007)
  15. Same-sex marriage: gay couples are 50 percent more likely to separate; lesbian couples face a whopping 167 percent increased risk for divorce. (Source: Gunnar Andersson, "Divorce-Risk Patterns in Same-Sex Marriages in Norway and Sweden," Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, 2004)

What Should You Draw from This?

Marriage is challenging. Obviously, every marriage is unique and no one knows your spouse or relationship like you do. You may have one, two, three or more of these "risk factors" and still never divorce. Although some of the "risk factors" are out of your control, some of them are within in your control. Use these statistics to think about your present relationship and the future. Couples counseling, individual counseling, a financial plan, a financial planning course, a self-help book, a weight-loss plan or group, a health club membership, or a bible study group all could be beneficial depending on the "risk factors" identified. You can use them as a tool to plan for the future and to overcome obstacles they may present. If the odds are against you, you can work harder to preserve your marriage and you can take steps to address future potential disagreements by using prenuptial agreements, postnuptial agreements, wills and other estate planning measures. Never, however, work harder to preserve an abusive relationship - no matter the amount of effort you put in, you will not be able to stop physical, emotional or verbal abuse. If you are in an abusive relationship, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for help.

What Can You Do?

If you do find yourself in a marriage that just isn't working, take steps to protect yourself, your children and your rights. A skilled divorce attorney in your area can offer invaluable advice, resources and information about how best to proceed. Being represented by legal counsel is essential to avoid being taken advantage of in a divorce. Most people's only contact with the court system is during a divorce. A divorce is a legal suit, and to increase your chances of a successful resolution, you need an experienced family law attorney at your side. A divorce affects your present, your future and your children's future. An experienced attorney can anticipate and minimize problems, as well as give you peace of mind. The most important qualities of a divorce attorney are: 1) devoting 100 percent of the law practice to family law matters, 2) years of family law practice, 3) experience handling contested divorces, 4) in-depth knowledge of the judges in your jurisdiction, 5) a commitment to the ethical practice of law, and 6) a dedication to advising clients to act with decorum and respect for the other party.