It’s not uncommon to be apprehensive about getting married. For some, it’s a general fear of commitment — or getting taken to the cleaners when things don’t work out. For others, particularly in the millennial generation, things are a bit more complicated than that, and a lot of those marriage complications have to do with the economy.
Some people jump right into marriage soon after high school at a relatively young age. That’s typically something associated with older generations, as trends have pointed to waiting longer and longer as the years have gone by. Today, the millennial generation is getting married later than ever, and a lot of it has to do with large amounts of debt and a bleak job market that is slowly improving.
What’s interesting about that is that it may have actually been playing into many couples’ favor to wait a bit to get married. After all, a more secure financial household, along with more established careers and goals is sure to help any couple avoid certain pitfalls of marriage. And studies have shown that couples that do wait to get married, even into their 30s, have a lower rate of divorce.
There’s a new batch of research showing that those divorce rates may be on a parabolic curve — that is, there is a sweet-spot in terms of what age you should get married. Divorce rates decline until a certain age, but after that age, they start to go up again. That is what Nicholas Wolfinger of The Institute for Family Studies at the University of Utah has found by digging through decades’ worth of data.
His findings? If you wait until after the age of 32, the chances of divorce start going back up — and rapidly.
“What was true for decades no longer seems to be the case,” Wolfinger writes, referring to the conventional wisdom that delaying marriage will reduce the risk of divorce. “My data analysis shows 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.”
Wolfinger himself was caught off-guard by the apparent shift, and says that the trend is relatively new, with one study done around 20 years ago evidently showing the early signs of divorce rates increasing for newlyweds in their 30s. So, what’s the explanation? There’s nothing concrete, but Wolfinger says that the types of people who are waiting it out are simply, well, not the types that are in high demand.
“My money is on a selection effect: the kinds of people who wait till their thirties to get married may be the kinds of people who aren’t predisposed toward doing well in their marriages,” he says. “Such people naturally have trouble with interpersonal relationships. Consequently they delay marriage, often because they can’t find anyone willing to marry them. When they do tie the knot, their marriages are automatically at high risk for divorce.”
There you have it. But what does this mean for you?
It depends. If you truly are waiting to get married to lower your risk of divorce, then the prime age for matrimony looks to be between 25 and 32. Outside of that range, rates increase. But if you’re simply waiting out marriage due to economic factors, as a lot of young people are doing these days, this news may not mean a lot to you. The average wedding is a huge expense for financially-strapped young couples, often costing between $26,000 and $80,000, depending on where and how you do it.
But it’s also important to remember that these are just numbers, and don’t really have any kind of bearing on how any individual relationship will fare — so don’t get freaked out. This is especially true if you haven’t had trouble building and maintaining relationships. In fact, as discussed, Wolfinger and other researchers still aren’t exactly sure why they’re seeing this change. And it will be interesting to see if it continues into the future as economic forces calm down.
In the meantime, just keep in mind that there evidently is a target age for marital success — and you might be right in the middle of it.
Follow Sam on Twitter @SliceOfGinger