It seems like good advice – well-meaning parents offer it all the time… “you’re too young to get married, you don’t know what you want from life yet.” In fact, the prevailing ‘wisdom’ of the culture seems to be that the older you marry, the more likely it is that the marriage will endure. But is this borne out in reality?
When age at first marriage is charted against the probability of divorce, the pattern has some surprises. Beginning at age 18, the divorce risk starts high (about 30% within 5 years*). As expected, this risk falls away with increasing age supporting the belief that marriages formed in the teenage years are generally more fragile. The factors that determine which of these teenage marriages survive is complex, but some research indicates that strong familial support is a positive factor in these unions, while pre-nuptial pregnancy is a negative.
What many don’t realise is that around the mid twenties, marital longevity plateaus and by the thirties divorce risk is climbing again. In other words, delaying marriage past the age of thirty actually increases the likely-hood of later divorce. So yes, when it comes to forging a life long marriage, age does matter, but not the way that you may first think.
Obviously, there are lots of factors that contribute to marital longevity including social support structures, maturity, shared-values and so on. But once we have reached a basic level of maturity, ‘more cellaring doesn’t make for a better wine’. And if we spend these years as a single in a self-centred lifestyle in self-serving relationships, then naturally, as time moves on, we are making ourselves ‘less fit for marriage’; a relationship that calls us into unconditional self-giving!
*Lehrer, Evelyn, Age at Marriage and Marital Instability: Revisiting the Becker-Landes-Michael Hypothesis, June 2006 ftp://repec.iza.org/RePEc/Discussionpaper/dp2166.pdf