- Danny Moloshok/Reuters
In the US, the divorce rate has been steadily declining since the 1980s.
Research reported in The New York Times suggests that about one-third of current marriages will end in divorce – not the 50% statistic you’ve likely heard time and time again.
Unfortunately, that means there’s still a decent chance you and your partner will split up, even after pledging lifelong devotion to each other. That idea leaves room for a lot of questions:
What makes a divorce more likely? What will happen to our kids if we do split up? What will happen to my health?
To help address some of these queries, Business Insider dug into years of research on the predictors and consequences of marital dissolution and highlighted the most intriguing findings below.
Keep in mind that all these studies offer general takeaways about modern relationships – no one can predict with 100% accuracy what will happen to yours.
Couples who marry in their late 20s may be less likely to divorce
Research led by Nicholas Wolfinger, a professor at the University of Utah, found that contrary to a long-held belief, waiting longer to wed doesn’t necessarily predict a stronger marriage.
Instead, the best time to marry seems to be between the early 20s and early 30s. If you wait until you’re older than 32, your chances of divorce start to creep up (though they’re still not as high as if you get married in your teens).
As Wolfinger writes on the Institute for Family Studies blog, “For almost everyone, the late twenties seems to be the best time to tie the knot.”
Couples may be most likely to divorce in March and August
2016 research presented at the American Sociological Association found that March and August bring spikes in divorce filings.
The researchers say it’s meaningful that March and August follow holiday or vacation periods. In the paper, they suggest that holidays represent something like “optimism cycles” – we see them as a chance to start anew in our relationships, only to find that the same problems exist once they’re over.
The researchers also suspect that oftentimes our holiday experiences can be stressful and disappointing, laying bare the real issues in our marriage. As soon as they’re over, we’re ready to call it quits.
Married people who watch porn may be more likely to divorce
A recent study, which was presented at the American Sociological Association, found that married people who start watching pornography are about twice as likely to get divorced as those who don’t.
The study, which hasn’t yet been peer-reviewed, involved about 2,000 participants over the course of nearly a decade. It found that the effect was even stronger for women, who were about three times as likely to get divorced if they started watching porn during the study period.
But, as Elizabeth Nolan Brown points out on Reason, it’s possible that taking up a porn habit may signal that something else is going wrong in your relationship. Maybe you’re dissatisfied with your sex life or maybe you and your partner aren’t communicating well.
In other words, it might not be the porn, per se, that’s causing marital problems. It might be a symptom of other underlying issues.
Husbands who don’t work full-time may be more likely to get divorced
A recent Harvard study couples suggests that it’s not a couple’s finances that affect their chances of divorce, but rather the division of labor.
When the researcher looked at heterosexual marriages that began after 1975, she learned that couples in which the husband didn’t have a full-time job had a 3.3% chance of divorcing the following year, compared to 2.5% among couples in which the husband did have a full-time job.
Wives’ employment status, however, didn’t much affect the couple’s chances of divorce.
The researcher concludes that the male breadwinner stereotype is still very much alive, and important for marital stability.
Women who have more sexual partners before getting married aren’t always more likely to get divorced
Wolfinger conducted another analysis that found, among heterosexual couples who married in the 2000s, women who had between three and nine sexual partners were in fact less likely to divorce than women who’d had two partners (a.k.a their husband and one other person).
Women who had at least 10 partners were most likely to divorce.
Meanwhile, among heterosexual couples who married in the 1980s and 1990s, women who had two or three sexual partners were more likely to get divorced than were virgins or women who had at least 10 sexual partners.
In a statement, Wolfinger distilled the lessons from this research: “If you’re going to have comparisons to your [future] husband, it’s best to have more than one.”
The closer a couple is in age, the less likely they are to get divorced
One study found that the odds of divorce among heterosexual couples increase with the age gap between the spouses.
“A one-year discrepancy in a couple’s ages, the study found, makes them 3 percent more likely to divorce (when compared to their same-aged counterparts); a 5-year difference, however, makes them 18 percent more likely to split up. And a 10-year difference makes them 39 percent more likely.”
More lavish weddings may predict less successful marriages
The same study mentioned above found that spending a lot on your wedding doesn’t necessarily bode well for the marriage itself.
According to the researchers:
“As compared with spending between $5,000 and $10,000 on the wedding, spending less than $1,000 is associated with half the hazard of divorce in the sample of men, and spending $20,000 or more is associated with 1.6 times the hazard of divorce in the sample of women.”
At the same time, the study found that having a lot of guests at your wedding predicts lower odds of divorce. Couples with 200 or more invitees are 92% less likely to divorce than couples who don’t invite anyone, The Atlantic reported.
Divorce may contribute to literal heartbreak in women
Recent research suggests that women who get divorced are more likely to suffer a heart attack than women who stay married.
“Women who divorced at least once were 24% more likely to experience a heart attack compared to women who remained married, and those divorcing two or more times saw their risk jump to 77%.”
For men, however, the chances of suffering a heart attack only went up if they divorced two or more times.
Divorce itself might not have a negative impact on kids
Instead, as Rebecca Harrington reported at Tech Insider, it seems to be conflict between parents that takes a toll on their children.
In fact, in one recent study, children whose parents fought a lot and then divorced were less likely to get divorced as adults than children whose parents fought a lot and didn’t get divorced. The researchers say that’s possibly because the divorce put a kind of end to the ongoing family conflict.
Couples who display ‘contempt’ for each other are more likely to split up
Business Insider’s Erin Brodwin reported on relationship expert John Gottman’s research, which suggests that contempt – a mix of anger and disgust that involves seeing your partner as beneath you – is a key predictor of divorce.
It’s not simply getting into a fight; it’s how you respond to your partner afterward: Do you try to see things from their perspective or just assume they’re an idiot? If it’s the latter, try replacing the behavior with a more positive, patient reaction. It could save your marriage.