Modern Marriage

There’s an interesting interview in Salon today of author Tara Parker-Pope, who has written a book on marriage, called For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage, in which the author looks into the science of what makes marriage work over the long term. I haven’t read the book so I can’t speak to it, but I found the interview interesting, particularly this part, in which Parker-Pope discusses the oft-quoted 50% divorce rate:

The 50 percent divorce rate is really a myth. The 20-year divorce rate for couples who got married in the 1980s is actually around 19 percent. Everyone thinks marriage is such a struggle and it’s shocking to hear that marriage is actually going strong today. It has to do with how you look at the statistic. If the variables were constant, then a simple equation might work to come up with the divorce rate. But a lot of things are changing. And it is true that there are groups of people who have a 50 percent divorce rate: college dropouts who marry under the age of 25, for example. Couples married in the 1970s have a 30-year divorce rate of about 47 percent. A person who got married in the 1970s had a completely different upbringing and experience in life from someone who got married in the 1990s. It’s been very clear that divorce rates peaked in the 1970s and has been going down ever since.

I found this comment really interesting because as a general matter, it conforms to my own anecdotal experience, which is that the large majority of my contemporaries who have gotten married seem to have stayed married; lots of Gen Xers are products of divorced parents but are not themselves divorced. It’s not 100%, obviously, nor do I think all divorces are bad things — I know folks for whom divorce was better than the alternative. But I do find generally speaking the people I know seem to have done better at staying married than the people in their parents’ generation.

But then as Parker-Pope notes, the people who got married in the 70s are different from the ones who got married in the 90s. My parents (who actually married in the 60s) were still in their teens when they got married, with high school educations, had two children in quick order, and were divorced in their early 20s. I and my wife got married in our mid 20s, which was actually earlier than most of my friends, who held off until their late 20s or early 30s, when I had a college education (and Krissy was getting hers), and we waited until four years in our marriage to have our daughter — a “lag time” between marriage and children which is also largely consistent with our friends. Statistically speaking, marriages like my parents’ (and others of their generation) are more likely to fail than marriages like ours (and others of our generation).

We shouldn’t get too self-congratulatory about this. One reason GenXers married later is that we spent a lot more time mucking about in our 20s; 25 was the new 18, as it were. Nor is any of this fundamentally generationally based, since statistically speaking the people who my age who married as our parents did (i.e., younger and less educated) experience more divorce, and I don’t doubt those in the 70s who married more like GenXers did (later, more educated) experienced less divorce as well. It’s not really about us as humans as it is about the circumstances of our lives, in which (ironically) our oft-divorced parents extended our adolescence along enough for a lot of us to actually grow up enough not to blow up a marriage.

But, you know. I’ll take that. I’m happy I’ve been married for a month short of fifteen years now — which is another way of saying I’m happy that I was mature enough when I did get married (and have gotten more so as I went along) not to screw it up — because I don’t doubt whose fault it would have been if the marriage had gone south. I’m glad many of my friends were in similar situations when they took the plunge as well, and that we’re all still at it. And I’m glad that many of those friends who for whatever reason found the first marriage didn’t take were still willing to try again. It’s good to be married, when you can.

76 Comments on “Modern Marriage”

  1. This mirrors my experience too; I, and many of my friends, got married in their mid twenties, during the late 80’s, and all but two of the couples I’m still in touch with are together.

    Both of the couples who split are better off apart, and. to be fair, they were the partnerships that included the most juvenile-acting of our crowd. Certainly marriage when you’ve matured is a more sensible commitment.

    Of course I’m in the UK and I think that our divorce rates are a little lower than those in the US anyway.

    That could just be a guess though!

  2. I recall reading that well-educated people tend to wait until their mid-late 20s or later to marry and have children.

  3. After my parent’s marriage went south when I was about 16 followed by their divorce at 18, I was fairly sure that divorce was a bear trap I was going to be god damned if I stepped in. Now I’m nearly 28, have been dating my current girlfriend for 6 years (yeah, she’s really patient) and my attitude has evolved to “Marriage might not be so bad if it will get my family off my back. I’ll just do that, you know, tomorrow.” which I guess i progress.

    One crucial point is, I have no designs on having kids. Children is the only scenario to which I see marriage as a definite prerequisite. I know more than a couple guys my age of the same opinion. We learned the lessons of our fathers way too well, I think.

  4. Well, I got married in the mid-70s at 22 and have been married 34 years now (my wife was 18 then). I know many people who have not divorced and have been married a long time, but of the people I know well, all of them are divorced.

    My parents were never divorced and neither were my wife’s. In fact, growing up, I knew few (if any) people whose parents were divorced.

  5. in that first sentence “divorce” should be “marriage”.

    Stupid brain…

  6. What fascinates me is the pattern I see around me (i.e. people in their mid-twenties to mid-thirties), where lots of guys are interested in settling down, but the women are commitment-shy. Which was definitely my case; my husband and I dated for seven years before getting engaged because I took substantially longer to be ready for such a thing than he did. Some of that is probably the age difference — he’s four years older than I am — but not all of it. Many of the women I know are hesitant to commit.

  7. Married a month short of 10 years, here. Married at 22, both having finished college. Waited 6 years before starting a family. Hope to be married to her for 100 years. But then it’s OVER! (j/k:) My parents have been married a darned long time, and they married after each finished college, too. They waited to start a family for among other reasons my father being drafted into Vietnam. 4 kids though… I’ve no idea how they managed to stay together through that. Hard work. Love.

    “It’s good to be married, when you can.” And here I thought I had figured out all the parts of John Perry which were autobiographical.

  8. 19 years yesterday. We were married in our 20s but we met at 19 (odd symmetry to that). I don’t know. I think our rough patch was really in our mid-late 20s when we had different ideas of fu”. Now we’re mature enough to accept each other and we have tons of fun together. We had kids latish, at 32, and I’m glad now we did.

    Thing is, there’s no real reason to have a bad marriage between reasonable adults. No excuse at all. I have no patience for married folks who play in destructive behaviors. You don’t really get to PICK anyone else but your spouse, so it’s stupid to resent them like you got “stuck” with them, which is a common problem I see in my circle.

  9. Maybe she covers this in her book, but I’d like to propose (har har) that part of it may also be attributed to the loosening of “living in sin” taboos. My husband and I lived together for 5 years before we got married. That’s probably why I have to think so hard when people ask how long we’ve been together, because I factor in our co-habitation, and I know that people really mean “how many years have you been married?” (Married for 13 years in August, “together” for 18 years in December) And dare I say it? I think it *helped* to have lived together first, because we learned a hell of a lot about each other prior to tying together our bank accounts, as it were.

    I say all this as someone who has no children and has no intention of having children either. We got married because we wanted to, not to legitimize something/someone. Meanwhile, I know several couples who’ve lived together for many years, and have children together, but are not legally married, and that seems to be working for them too.

  10. Married happily 28 years. My parents had a nasty divorce in the 60’s. My hub’s were til death do us part. Hub and his first wife were divorced after a ten year marriage that started in the 60’s.

    I didn’t get married until I was certain I wanted to be. My parents were such a bad example it was necessary to start from scratch with no built-in expectations. Since the hub was divorced, he felt pretty much that way too. I’m sure that’s a key element in our success.

  11. Marie Brennan @6: Many of the women I know are hesitant to commit.

    –>Common wisdom has it that marriage is neutral or a benefit to a man of any station, neutral or detrimental to a woman with education. Perhaps this disinclines the population of educated women (presumably your friends are in that group) to get married quite so fast.

    Women are still overwhelmingly the primary care givers for children (though kudos to my male GenX friends whom I witness doing their 50% of the parenting), and that’s a calculation women in long-term careers have to make. Marriage still equals a greater likelihood for children than singledom does. Remaining single is an excellent strategy for putting off the question of children.

    (Not to mention it’s easier to afford nannies and babysitters if you’re further into your career when you have children.)


    Another statistical skew to the 50% thing is the question of multiple divorces. One person getting married and divorced five times has been part of five divorces, but they involved only six people, not ten.

  12. My parents were married at 19, and this year it’ll be *mental arithmetic* 37 years, and 4 kids. (They both have college degrees, and my mom has a masters, fwiw.)

    I’ve always been aware that the odds were against that kind of success at that age, though, and although my now-husband and I have been dating since high school and living together since age 18, we waited until we were 23 and out of college to actually get married, mostly to get through any shake-down period before being legally entangled.

    I think one of the things that has helped us has been being pretty open to flirtations on the side, which gives one room to feel out whether there’s likely a better match out there. Answer: no, but, especially since we paired off so young, it’s reassuring to feel that one has the opportunity to check.

  13. I wonder how much culture changes influence the divorce rate.
    Today there is a great deal of open discussion about relationships, how they work, why they work and so on. More people are willing to seek counseling, more people are willing to discuss issues with their spouse that would not have been open forum in many generations.

    Finally there is the impact of a more equal footing in marriage. Womens rights probably caused a lot of the divorces in the 70s and keep the marriages today alive. When the role of a woman is completely different in a person’s lifetime, it can have an effect.

  14. I think that part of the 50% divorce rate, includes multiple divorces…for instance my “former stepmother” is currently on her 5th marriage. My husband and I really did in the statistics, I was in my 30s and he was in his 40s..going on 20 years now. (for luck we got married at a SF convention.)

  15. I just got married last Saturday. Husband and I are both 24.

    As we prepared to tie the knot, there were people happy to tell us that we’re too young, or that 50% of marriages end in less than five years, so ours doesn’t have a chance, or that we should be waiting to pass some benchmark or other before we even think about getting hitched.

    I responded (at least to those to whom I thought not responding might fall outside the bounds of etiquette) with the various reasons I didn’t think their generalizations applied to our particular case, but it’s nice to know that there are hard numbers to back up my general sense that the 50% statistic is erroneous. Thanks for sharing the quote.

  16. What still tickles me is that guys like Larry King can still get up to the altar and do the vows again… for the 7th or so time. I wonder if anyone brings a laugh track to his weddings these days.

  17. I’m not sure that pure statistics (even accounting for generational factors) are going to be useful for sorting this out in any case.

    IME, the three critical factors:

    1. Age
    2. Culture of origin
    3. Economic status

    If you get a couple of young kids whose brains still haven’t even finished developing, toss in some hardcore anti-sex, anti-contraception dogma and add a dash of poverty? You’re going to get people who marry for the entirely wrong reasons, and they’re going to split up in short order.

    Some people believe that making divorce harder will make marriages stick. I’m of the completely opposite opinion: I think we ought to make getting married harder.

    If we up the minimum age, require premarital counseling seminars and make sure that people (especially women) have economic support options that don’t involve depending on another person, the divorce rate is going to go down because people won’t be getting married for stupid reasons.

    No one should get married just because they want to get laid or because they want to get out of their parents’ house or because they can’t survive economically on their own. Yet people still do this all the time. Until we fix that, people will still be in miserable marriages, and kids will still be raised in miserable homes.

  18. I’m not prepared to comment on the stability of marriage in general.

    I do however want to note that it seems that the most vocal and virulent self-described “defenders of traditional marriage” tend to have an exceptionally poor track record when it comes to being faithful or the whole “till death do us part” thing…

  19. I am getting married in October at age 49.. my first time and I have come to realize that this will be my only marriage.

    The cumudgeon in me says it’s because statistically marrying additional times in my elder years is just not going to happen, but my real me knows that we know how to be married at this time in our lives.
    We understand the level of communication and compassion it takes to give each other the togetherness and the space to be successful at it.

    In all honesty, I like the practical parts and still can pull off the star-eyed parts simultaneously with shopping for progressive lenses and telling kids to get off our lawn.

  20. And for the record (and as a disclaimer):

    I hooked up with my ex at 16, we got married at 19 and divorced at 23.

    Hooked up with the current one a year later, got married two years after that, and we’ve now been together for 15 years. We were still a smidge on the young side, but the other factors–which led me to marry way too young the first time–weren’t an issue.

  21. Scalzi @16, thanks! And congratulations on your soon-to-be presidency, which I didn’t get a chance to say earlier because of the busy.

    (and I guess I’m meant to be signing my comments differently now…)

    Sara@13: When the role of a woman is completely different in a person’s lifetime, it can have an effect.

    Yeah, I was thinking the same thing. The timing does match up rather neatly. Which, you know, correlation != cause etc etc, but it might be worth looking at.

  22. 33, married for 9 years, which was in turn 10 years after my wife-to-be and I started dating. Getting married at 24 was definitely a surprise to our social circle — the phrase “random marriage hammer” was used.

    I’m currently reading Red Families, Blue Families, which is about exactly this — the dramatically changing (and regionally different) timelines of marriage. I can’t do it justice in a summary, but this review gives a good sense of the argument. Educated folks who marry in their mid-20s just aren’t getting divorced much any more.

  23. Married 27 years from 1975 to 2002. Single-again 2002-2005. Married to e-Harmony bride in 2005 and going strong.

    Empty nest syndrome on the first marriage. We put all our emotional energy into raising two fine now independent adult sons. When the empty nest hit we were strangers.

    Parents and Grandparents (mine and my e-Harmony bride) married once and for life. Ex-bride’s father married and divorced in late forties.

    Statistics are all over the map on this issue. But Scalzi you hit the right note. Culture and background have much to do with marriage longevity. Today you guys are much luckier on the marriage count because our culture now talks about relationships and getting counseling help in troubled situations is the normal thing to do and fully accepted. Not so during the lives of most of us boomers who married in the seventies.

    May your marriage last forever or until the heat death of the universe, whichever comes first. Or the second coming and the new Heavens and Earth, my personal preference for an “end” to this timeline.

  24. Well it’s interesting. I’m about your age, John, and those of my friends who got married in their early to mid-twenties, every one of them subsequently got divorced. Later marriages have been more stable, but the divorce rate is still pretty high. Anecdotally, second marriages, when well separated from the first marriage, have tended to be more stable.

    And there’s a pretty fair number of us who have so far never married, and show no signs of doing so any time soon.

  25. The Beloved and I met 18 years ago, exchanged commitment rings 11 years ago, and married 2 years ago, all as of last Sunday. The first number means the most to us, because it didn’t take us very long to realize we had a very good thing together.

    I remember finding out some time back that the 50% statistic was bogus. It’s interesting-depressing-annoying that myths like that can be so hard to kill.

    PS to Annalee Flower Horne:


  26. Together and happily unmarried 18 years this May, two recent children. We may marry for legal reasons at some point (inheritance for children, etc.), but hopefully not.

    We talk about getting married for the sentiment of it every once in a while, but are having a hard time overcoming our political issues with it.

    But maybe at our 25th anniversary. That would be funny.

    Also poly, but interestingly, that has nothing to do with our decision not to marry. People seem to have a hard time understanding that one, though. :-)

  27. Annalee@15:

    Congratulations on your marriage! Ignore the sourpusses.

    My husband and I were told – to our faces, in our home, not 5 minutes after we were pronounced man and wife – that we were not “really married” and that we’d split within 6 months because we didn’t have a church wedding.

    We’ll celebrate 20 years on February 22, 2011. And on that day, I am calling the people who said that to us (and, funny, it’s the second marriage for both of them!) and cheerfully chirping “Has this just been the longest fucking six months in the history of ever, or WHAT?” And then I’m hanging up, and going out for a lovely dinner with my husband and two incredible sons.

    The only people who can speak with authority about the outlook of any given marriage are those directly involved in that marriage. Everyone else is just making it up as they go.

  28. Despite the ribbing and jokes, I’m glad I got married in my early 30’s. Had I been married in my early 20’s, my early 20’s-self would have had a much higher chance of self-destructing.

    I feel that while there’s still pressure on marriage (depending on where you live), it’s far less socially than it once was where people are seemingly marrying for better reasons than just to beat some invisible social race happening.

  29. Theoretically, I did everything right–waited to get married until we both had our college degrees, didn’t have kids until later–but my marriage still ended in divorce :(. My ex, who had wanted kids, decided after they were born that he didn’t want them so much.

  30. Raised on the Brady Bunch and I Love Lucy re-runs, how could we Gen-Xers not aspire to the concept of a happy marriage where things will always work out in the end if you just try and communicate. I think this is 16 years for me in an uneasy dance that is becoming comfortable. And that is that.

  31. Married in 1984, widowed in 1990. A relationship or two since, but nothing approaching permanence. What I find interesting is that I can see being in a permanent relationship with someone much more easily than I can see living with someone- I want my own space, and the other person involved should have their own as well.

  32. Happily married for 37 years ( I was 22, she was 20). Took my Mom’s advice, she said, Never go to bed mad, don’t keep secrets. Worked for us.
    My Dad says my kids are weird, neither of their parents have ever been divorced, they have always lived in the same house.
    Stability at home is the key to a successful family.

  33. My wife and I will be at Disneyland’s 55 restaurant this Friday to celebrate our 11th anniversary … my second marriage and her first. Every single male in my family and extended family (of my generation) that has ever been married, has been divorced. (For the record, four men, seven marriages, six divorces–mine being the only one currently intact.) The females have fared much better, only four divorces out of nine marriages in my generation.

    I suspect that says more about the people involved and less about cultural or educational factors.

  34. Mazel tov, Annalee!

    Anecdotally, what Skip is talking about is the “starter marriage” – it wasn’t all that uncommon for people in my GenX circle to get married youngish, then get divorced a few years in with no kids, property or significant financial ties involved, and go on later to a more conventional and stable marriage.

    Personally, my secret to an awesome marriage (15 years, three kids, far too many pets) is to marry somebody who’s such a nice person that they always look for the good in people. i.e., my husband is never going to wake up and say “My God, you really are an asshole. And a lawyer! What was I thinking?!” Because he’s nice.

    (Of course, I also feel compelled to live up to his glass-half-full expectations, which doesn’t hurt any.)

  35. The product of a bitter divorce, it wasn’t until I was in high school that I got to see a good marriage up close: my father and my stepmother.

    When I asked my father what the secret was to a good marriage, he replied, “I don’t know. I just do what I’m told.”

    Best advice my old man ever gave me. It just took me a while to understand it.

    Very happily married going on 15 years now. We married at 40, her first, my second (married at 21, divorced at 23, not a clue what I was doing). Never a doubt in our minds. Everyone says how much work relationships are. We just keep saying to each other that we must be doing something wrong, then. This is way too easy.

  36. @18/Tal:

    The culture of origin piece is definitely tricky. My boyfriend is from Hong Kong, and we have the issue that his family does not approve of me being white. So, we’ve been living together for a few years but we’re not married. Family has connotations for him that go far beyond my understanding, and he’d be devastated if they disowned him the way they did his cousin when she married a black guy a couple years ago.

    None of this bugged me until we had a conversation that made it very clear that there’s a profound difference to him in the way he sees Wife vs. Girlfriend. Your wife is your family. Your girlfriend, well, not so much. I think I’m not getting that upgrade any time soon. I also think it’s about time to mosey on. I don’t mind the ‘living in sin’ piece and I don’t really care about being married, but being a second-class not-wife is a different animal. Took me awhile to figure that subtle difference out.

  37. Born in ’51, married in ’80, kids in ’83 & ’84, separated in ’01. Still not divorced, living in the same town. Most of the time we’re good friends. Who wants to be typical? I’d rather be happy. And, yes I may just get her that 30th anniversary present…

  38. Here’s a horror story for you. My cousin is on wife number six or seven. I forget which.
    I have always been a bit skeptical of that 50% number even with my cousin running up the averages. I mean how do really get good numbers? The short ones are easy but how do you include the long runners? Best way I could think of would be pecentage by year. As of this date X% of couples married in Y year are divorced. But how useful would that be? Our culture is constantly changing.
    Top it off with the fact that by the time you are thinking about spending the rest of your life with someone you are generally not going to be disuaded by statistics.
    I file this sort of number with top ten lists. Entertaining topic for conversation but little application for individuals.

  39. My experience has been very different from yours and Ms. Parker-Pope’s. The vast majority of people I know from my parents’ generation, who married in the 1960s and early 1970s, are still married, including my parents. When I was a kid, divorce was extremely rare among friends of the family, parents of classmates, etc…, though there were a few case of unhappy and short first marriage (usually happened before I was born) followed by a longterm second marriage. And because most of the women from that generation did not work and had no financial security, it would have been very difficult for them to leave a marriage unless it was absolutely intolerable. Also a lot of those women are very submissive to their husbands.

    Whereas the majority of marriages of people who are a bit older than me, i.e. now in their 40s, are either deeply unhappy or already ended in divorce, even those that seemed pretty happy at the start. And most of those couples did not marry young either, but in their late 20s or 30s. A cousin of mine has just gone through her third divorce. I am a teacher and many of the kids in the classes, i.e. the children of the fortysomething generation, have divorced parents with all the attendant problems.

    I can’t really speak for my own age cohort, because those that did get married, usually from conservative family backgrounds, haven’t been married long enough for the cracks to show. And a lot, particularly those with university degrees, live in longterm committed relationships, but don’t get married, because they don’t see the point. In my experience unmarried longterm committed couples seem happier than married ones.

    As for myself, I am philosophically opposed to marriage, because as an institution it has traditionally oppressed and disadvantaged women. Besides, in modern western societies marriage is not necessary for longterm committed relationships. And to be honest, the experiences of married or divorced people around me do nothing to persuade me otherwise.

  40. Married a day short of 15 years – and then turning 40 exactly a week later.

    NO idea what I’m doing about the anniversary. Given what our house has been like, I may come home with a battery operated, back-up sump pump.

    Don’t think she’s got anything planned either – but then again, I didn’t think she had anything planned when she surprised me on my 39th wit ha party last year.

    Hmmmmmm….. How to avoid the dog house.

  41. 20 years. My how the times flies.

    In my parents generation, divorce was everywhere. Nowadays in my circle of friends, only one couple has broken up. Keep wondering when they’ll divorce though. Dragging things out is not good.

    We did get married fairly young (23, right out of college), but there was no way in hell I was going to follow him all the way across the country for him to go to law school without being married. We’ve had our ups and downs, but nothing to warrant splitting up. After three kids, who would want either one of us? It’s work.

    I hate it when people say that couples cannot get married young. It works. Don’t let others tell you it doesn’t. And it’s not very nice to say that to the couple. Everyone is different on commitment and maturity level.

  42. My husband and I could possibly mess up the averages. We had a child very young (he was 19 and I was 21) in 1986. While we actually got married in 1998 (To make things less legally complicated which is why I totally support same-sex marriage.), we’ve been together since 1985. And both of us come from families where the parents stayed together –his parents are still together and mine would be had my mother not died in 1994. My father has remarried. My husband’s parents also married while in their late teens in 1961 while mine were 25 years old.

  43. It’ll be 16 years for my wife and I in July. This will be longer than any marriage in the family of anyone in my parent’s generation. My mother is on her third husband, my father on his fourth, my stepfather on his sixth. (Though in all those cases, the final one seemed to stick.)

    For us, it help a lot that we were friends for years before we were a couple and lived together for years before marriage at 28. Marriage has its own trials, of course, but we knew each other completely. There were no surprises and little adjustment. I see a lot of people in my generation like that.

    There are no hard and fast rules, of course. My wife’s parents will celebrate 50 next year.

    Joel@41: The best gift for a falling down house is a weekend away at a B&B!

  44. My wife and I had a modern relationship – half a year or so of long distance dating, lived together a few months until a formal proposal was made, married a year later at 26 and 24 years of age.

    12 years and two children later, and we’ve just come upon a very rocky place. Not to go into detail, but I don’t know which side of this statistic we’re gonna land on right now. This is a timely thread for me.

    We did have many advantages going in – we’d both completed college, had careers started, had counseling through our church before the marriage, and both of our parents were (are) still together. I have faith in us. I actually don’t know anyone my age who divorced after being married this long. A few couples, who married younger than we, were divorced after a year or two, and each did go on to long and happy second marriages which stand today.

  45. Together 22 years married 18 of them.
    Was told repeatedly by the alpha’s of the gamers group that was then our social circle that we weren’t a real couple and wouldn’t last; they even went as far as to blacklist us in the clique politics. We win, they suck!

  46. Congrats to the newly-wedded! May you have many, many years of bliss together.

  47. Almost all of my married friends are still married; one of the few exceptions is not the one whom you would expect. (Fundamental life-goal mismatch; after seven years they figured out that she really wanted children and he absolutely did not.) She’s getting remarried to somebody who is a better fit, I think.

    It all comes down to knowing that marriage is not happily-ever-after; it’s still part of the story.

  48. I’ve got nothing but anecdotal evidence, of course, but I have to say, for my own generation, which is Millenial or Y or whatever (though the older end of it–I am irritated by generational numbers. I find it impossible to believe my stepmother and I are the same generation but my brothers and I are not, which is how the 1960-1980 numbers for Gen X shake out. Someone who turns 50 this year is in a totally different place than I, barely in my thirties. Anyway, digression over) I see a LOT of divorce floating around. Many of my friends are on their second marriages. I would say that maybe 80% of the people around my own age that I socialize with are either divorced, on their second marriage, or have never been married at all. I know very few people my age simply on their first marriage, which has lasted.

    That might sound like dumb data since I’m 31 and that’s like the new 21, but I also think there’s a lot more millenials getting married in their early twenties than there were Gen Xers, a swing back in the other direction. And then getting divorced in their early 30s.

    I guess I’m just saying that Gen Y represents in the Divorce Rally.

  49. It’s also easier (if not easy) to be gay these days – my girlfriend and I can’t get married, but we’re also not taking part in compulsory heterosexuality up to and including marriage. And yes, I know some older gay and lesbian people who married opposite-sex partners young to try to cure their same-sex attraction, then divorced years later when they realised they didn’t have to.

  50. Rens @19: I do however want to note that it seems that the most vocal and virulent self-described “defenders of traditional marriage” tend to have an exceptionally poor track record when it comes to being faithful or the whole “till death do us part” thing…

    Well, now, to be fair to them, in many cases we’ve redefined “being faithful” to make it a lot easier on ourselves. (Which, to be clear, I think is a good thing.)

    If people who want to have multiple sex partners, and even multiple relationships, can, with the agreement of their partners, still have them openly and honestly while married — the participants in the marriage having simplified “being faithful” to mean “being truthful” and not “not sleeping with other people” — suddenly that source of drama and tension and frustration is eliminated. It may of course introduce others, but, hey, every couple has to find what works for them.

    As Tal points out, getting laid is a really stupid reason to get married (and the anti-masturbation nonsense only makes this worse), and, hey, when you needn’t devote the rest of your life to a single other person in order to fulfill this basic need most humans have without shouldering a steaming load of guilt, suddenly you can make a lot more sensible, clear-headed choices when you do decide to devote your life to a single other person. There we’ve redefined “being faithful” to mean “except as otherwise noted, not sleeping outside your current relationship,” or maybe “being truthful” is pithier, not “never having had sex with anyone else ever in your life before this relationship, except if you’ve been married before and are now divorced, and then only with your partner at the time”.

    Ditto gay marriage, where we’ve redefined “being faithful” to mean “to your partner” rather than “to your single partner of the opposite sex who you aren’t actually interested in sexually, but who probably doesn’t realize that”. Having watched the explosions from afar as a friend’s parents split up because turns out dad had a guy on the side and he decided he was tired of hiding it (and then proceeded to be an utter dick about it, which was a character flaw unrelated to his orientation), I can only see gay marriage and increasing acceptance of queerness in society as a good thing for marriage in general.

    It’s like, if y’all redefine “being faithful” to not force people to do things they don’t want to do (and to let them do things they do want to do, an’ it hurt none), they’re much happier, and it’s much easier for them to “be faithful”. Weird, I know.

  51. congrats Analee!

    my parents I think are somewhat rare–most of the people I know my age were kids of divorce, my parents were 19 and 21 when they married in 1973, and are still together. they had a rough patch at around the 10-15 year area (I was too young to really know when it happened that it was happening, so I don’t have an exact time frame) but stuck it out.

    I got engaged at 20 to a 23 year old guy, then we broke up before the wedding really got planned, so while I would love to have a wedding in that I love to throw parties and dress up and eat cake and dance, I think that if I ever meet another man I’m interested in marrying (or a woman, for that matter) we’ll live together for a while beforehand if we actually legally marry at all.

  52. I know my first marriage ended not because of statistics but from whatever choices the two of us had made over the years.

    Strangely enough, my second marriage looks more conventional than the first, which was something I actually dreaded over the years. (“OMG, we’re a typical couple!”)

    Of course, I doubt if Nita and I had married in our twenties we’d still be together. We were both a bit too cocky for own good before either of us met.

  53. Mary Anne Mohanraj @ 27

    We talk about getting married for the sentiment of it every once in a while, but are having a hard time overcoming our political issues with it.

    We had pretty much written off getting married, partly because of our own political issues. Then, a couple of years after our state (Massachusetts!) stopped discriminating against same-sex couples in that regard, we started kicking the idea around again. It’s still a discriminatory institution on the federal level, but things felt different/better enough that we did it. The ceremony was very private — just us, plus a a JP for the legal bit — and romantic and gave us a nice warm glow that seems to have faded back into the glow we’ve felt since the beginning.

    Overall, I think our getting married made more of a difference to our parents than it did to us.

    But maybe at our 25th anniversary. That would be funny.

    We did it on our 16th. It does make our anniversaries easier to remember …

    Also poly, but interestingly, that has nothing to do with our decision not to marry. People seem to have a hard time understanding that one, though. :-)

    Not me.

    We did consider the possibility that being married might make us seem even less “available” than being “only” partnered. But that’s currently somewhat moot.

  54. Then again, the statistics don’t always work. Got married in the 90’s when we were in our early thirties. Both had college educations and decent careers. Been together almost 20 years and, as far as I’m concerned, are only staying together for the children. Don’t want them to be impoverished by a divorce, and I want to continue to be involved in their lives (divorced fathers definitely still get the short end of the stick).

  55. Thanks for the well-wishes, everyone.

    And our sourpusses, I think, were just a little shocked to hear me, who always self-described as “not the marrying type,” say “meet my fiance!” They warmed up once they got to know him better, and got to know us better as an “us.” We’re blessed to have the support of an extensive network of friends, family, and Quakers around us–they’re the best support structure I could ever imagine our marriage having.

    Not that I’m exactly the leading expert on marriages, having had a successful one for a grand total of five days now, but I think that marriage statistics are a lot like publishing statistics. You can say “x% of unsolicited manuscripts sent to y house get published,” but that doesn’t actually tell you anything about Z Manuscript’s chances. If Z Manuscript is bad, its chances are far worse than x%. If it is good, it’s chances are far better.

    Likewise, a marriage with the right things going for it verses a marriage without those things, or with the wrong things. The numbers are helpful in a general sense, especially when trying to work out what the “right things” are and how to make sure more couples have them, but on an individual level, that “anecdotes aren’t data” thing can work both ways.

  56. The statistic I read is that the divorce rate peaked in 1980.
    As someone who “finally” married in 1970 at 26, [five years after my friends], and only because I wanted children, I think my generation’s high divorce rate suffered from a clash of two cultures — men and women. Those of us with careers were encouraged to enjoy a new sense of freedom and entitlement. For once we were using our educations instead of getting married the day after graduation.
    Unfortunately, as we began to enjoy financial independence, we expected equality and sharing of responsibilities when we got married. When the door slammed, we realized [too late] that the men of our generation still expected their wives to “obey” them. We were supposed to hurry home to make dinner, wash dishes, do the laundry, and end our careers when babies were born. [Someone had to change the diapers and it wasn’t going to be him.]
    For me one event epitomized those times. I was expected to get up every morning before my job to boil water for my husband’s instant coffee. Because I was the woman, he made it clear that doing his bidding was expected.
    I didn’t know it at the time, but slamming into those old fashioned expectations made me realize I had become “liberated.” At the time I just had a sense that things weren’t fair.
    I already had a career in a field dominated by men. I had my own car. We moved into MY roomy one bedroom apartment, and I made as much money as my husband, a lawyer. Overnight, marriage turned me into his chattel. I wanted out the second day. I finally gave up after eight years and two children.
    At that time a woman usually divorced because she had a therapist, family money, or a lover. I had none of those to fall back on. I got divorced because I couldn’t breathe in that atmosphere. I desperately wanted my freedom. Since then, I have turned down three offers to marry again. Why? Because the men were younger and wanted me to have their children. In my first marriage, I was a well educated maid. Now they wanted me to be a breeder.
    Since most divorced women go back to their maiden names and use “Ms.” it is with great irony that I continue to call myself Mrs. L after all these years. It’s my daily reminder not to let it happen again.

  57. Coming up on 11 years. I was 32 and wife was 42 when we got married. It was kinda’ impetuous (asked her to marry me at end of first date and she said yes) but then, neither of us had ever had a live in SO. Now, we did move in together within a week or so and set the wedding out 6 months (sister was having big wedding in a couple months) but that was about all the time we had before getting hitched. So far, it’s worked out fine.

    As for demographics, we’re both college educated (met at party where we ended up discussing neo-Celtic migrations in to China) but I did drop out after 14 years and don’t have a degree (darn mid-term attention deficit disorder! Kept changing majors every other year or so).

    Cool thing is we now work together in tech support, with our desks next to each other. Never have to be apart!

  58. I’m something of an anomalous case – married my first wife when I was 25 and she was 19, in 1961 and divorced (her idea) after five years. In 1974 married my second wife, when I was 37 and she was 21, and we recently celebrated our 36th anniversary, both of us very happy with our relationship throughout. Not the pattern I’d recommend for everyone (or anyone else, come to that) but it worked very well for us.

  59. I find that this whole divorce/marriage statistical quagmire is useless on a case by case basis in much the same way that longevity statistics are not meaningful for a particular person. Marriage/divorce statistics are only useful in the same way that mortality statistics are useful. And that is with detailed and rigorous analysis. I.E. of the people that died at age 22 how many died in car wrecks, how many did from health issues, what kind of health issues. I don’t remember seeing any detailed studies of marriage/divorce that study the same kinds of things. ( Divorce documents don’t list a standardized and detail reason, unlike death certificates). What would be useful would be the same kind of studies we do with heart disease, obesity and the like. Plus it would be useful to develop a methodology and language for divorce cause in the same way we have for death causes. (Hmm. Would we then have marriage autopsies like we have medical autopsies? Dr. G vs Lawyer G?)

  60. @Mike #60: “Would we then have marriage autopsies like we have medical autopsies?”

    Could make for some interesting shows. Hugh Laurie and Jeff Goldblume as divorce investigators?

  61. John Scalzi: We shouldn’t get too self-congratulatory about this. One reason GenXers married later is that we spent a lot more time mucking about in our 20s; 25 was the new 18, as it were.

    Oh? What’s wrong with “mucking about”? It’s also called “experimenting”, after all. ;-)

  62. BTW, I’m with Mike about marriage statistics being useful in the same way as mortality/longevity statistics. (Among the “anomalies” I know about is an ex-couple who married in the late 1960s at ages 24 and 25, had both college educations, were both very religious, had several children together – and ended up divorcing after 30 years. One of them remarried soon afterwards with a divorcée 15 years younger. The other is still celibate, and unhappy she can’t become a catholic nun because, duh, her ex-husband is not ex- at all in the eyes of the RCC. The autopsy of that marriage would be quite interesting.)

  63. My experience mirrors John’s, though I’ve got a decade on him.

    In working with poverty programs I dug deep into the divorce stats. The biggest skew behind that misleading 50% stat is the serial marriers with multiple divorces. Even among them there are many that after multiple marriages in their late teens/early twenties go on to lasting marriages when they marry later in life. Especially those whose earlier marriages don’t include children.

  64. I was surprised to see that the 50% “rule of thumb” on the divorce rate is incorrect. Being a Gen-Xer just turned 40 I saw more than my share of divorces– my own parents divorced when I was 8, but remarried two years later and are still going strong. My uncle had a disasrous divorce only to marry a monster with whom he is still happy after 25 years!
    Nevertheless I have been with my partner for 12 years and have considered going to Europe or Canada to marry– going to another state makes no sense to me until the IRS recognizes it and we’re no longer considered second-class citizens in our own country. My partner was already through a nasty divorce from which his children suffered terribly, so the thought of opening ourselves up to further legal issues is frightening– but isn’t that a risk all people who marry face?
    Just my own two cents’ worth. :-)

  65. From my own short experience and some of the previous comments, I would like to posit the unscientific theory that extended families have a LOT to do with successful marriages. I have a very dear friend in whose family there is a sort of understanding that you’re not really complete until you’re married. To elaborate further, even if you’re 25-30, you haven’t joined the ranks of the “grown-ups” until you’ve brought a spouse to the party. The family is also made up of compulsive adopters: for the spouses, we’re delighted to have you here. Resistance is futile. Prepare to be assimilated. As a system, it is unfair to the older single people, but between the grandparents, the six marriages in the boomer generation and the (to date) 7 and counting marriages in the x/y generation, no divorces.

    In contrast I have known families where spouses were not greeted as members of the family, but as unwanted appendages of the members who’d married them. Where the tacit understanding was “family comes first,” and the idea that spouses and in-laws counted as family would have been met with confusion. Divorce is not so rare in that case.

    Anecdotal evidence. For consumption with a grain of salt.

  66. PJ_the_Barbarian @ 66:

    Hmm. Interesting speculation.

    Despite the fact that our marriage — when we finally got around to it — seemed to matter more to our parents than it did to us, both sides of our family are happily “compulsive adopters” who don’t wait until it’s legal. (Nor does divorce necessarily sever that bond. My brother’s first ex is still considered to be family by most of us, twenty-some years later.)

  67. 33 years this coming July.

    Our friends & acquaintances gave us two years, max, before we’d split up. (Nyah, nyah, nyah, to them.)

    There was a rough spot or two in those first two years, but we’ve been in a Mutual Adoration Society ever since.

    We actually didn’t intend to get married as soon as we did, but the VA wouldn’t consider our incomes as joint income for mortgage qualification unless we made it legal.

    Data points: I was 23, she was 30 when we went from being friends to being a couple. My first marriage, her second.

  68. I didn’t marry until I was 33, she was 35 and I was her fourth (last). Coming up on our 20th in September. It hasn’t been a bed of roses all the time but I made a promise 20 yrs ago that I mean to keep.

  69. I think the divorce rate % as given is pretty useless. I’d like to see a % of FIRST marriages that end in divorce. That would give much better indication of the health of marriage overall. After that first divorce, you really shouldn’t be counted on to hold to a marriage ever again, y’know?

  70. My husband and I have been married for 61 years, 8 months, 8 days, 17 hours, and 19 minutes. He was 25; I was almost 18. We raised four children, all highly educated and successful, even though neither of us had more than high school; we weathered the deaths of two sons-in-law, breast cancer, and 21 years (and counting) of chronic fatigue syndrome; we’re still crazy in love. We have been exceedingly lucky. I wrote a book about breast cancer (Fine Black Lines) when I was 63 and since then we have traveled together over 400,000 miles as I spoke in all 50 States. My third book was just released in April – This Path We Share: Reflecting on 60 Years of Marriage. We wish all of you the best of luck, plus longevity and love!

  71. I was the first married out of my close friends in 2001. Since then there have been 5 marriages, 3 divorces, and one re-marriage.

    these were all after college weddings of people in their 20s to 40s.

    So, yeah, not such a great track record for the last decade.

  72. I know dozens of people who married their high school sweetheart before they finished college and most are still together and more would be if both were still alive. I know college graduates that married after several years together only to divorce in under 10 years.

    “Statistics lie. They tell the picture the person writing the questions wants to tell. If you give the exact same data to 5 different people you will get 5 different reads of that data. People tend to interpret information based on their own vision, life experiences, and background.” From the first day of statics class 33 years ago.

    We celebrated our 28th anniversary on May 21. Our daughter is 27. My husband turned 19 12 days after we got married and I was 23. I had a college education, he was in the USAF.

  73. Am I really the first person to point out the apples and oranges statistics? 20-year divorce rate for 1980’s marriages vs. 30-year divorce rate for 1970’s? It would be much more interesting to compare the 20-year divorce rate for those two periods. And you can’t get that stat yet for the 90’s, so 10-year rates for all those periods would actually be comparable.

    And as several people have pointed out, naturally individual cases aren’t going to prove or disprove any stats – stats are only meaningful for groups. Even a 50% rate means half didn’t end in divorce, so non-divorced couples don’t detract from that statistic one bit.

    Sorry to sound grumpy – pet peeve.

    To add to the anecdotes, my husband and I were married 15 years and together 25 when he passed away earlier this year. I was 36 and he was 35 when we married.

  74. Well, it really all depends on who you marry and how serious you are about it. My parents have been married for almost 50 years. My wife’s parents married for nearly 45. It comes as no surprise that we both value the sanctity of marriage and had the same basic understanding going in. “To death to us part!”

    In today’s society divorce is so accepted that people get married with mindset that if it doesn’t work, they will just get divorced. Talk about setting yourself up for failure!

  75. Missed this one. Met the first one in 1967, that marriage-to-be got destroyed by a USMC FUBAR that’s too long to tell; it left us both committed bachelor and bachelorette. Met the second one in 1970, started dating her in 1974, were going to marry in the fall of 1976 (which it happens is when the first girl married) but events halted it. We stayed together, did our taxes in January to see how much the delay would cost us, and discovered the Marriage Penalty. $5,000. We decided to wait a few years. Friends started getting nasty divorces, my fears came back. We finally married in 1998, having been whapped by the myth that there was a legal substitute for marriage. 37 and a half years together now, could not have been better. Don’t regret a second of the togetherness or the marriage. We’re not typical, I know.