Couples who ‘slide’ into marriage more likely to divorce

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Couples who ‘slide into marriage’, because of family pressure are up to 50 per cent likely to divorce than those who marry for love, finds a major new study from Marriage Foundation.

The study, Attitudes towards marriage and commitment looked at 2000 adults who had ever married. We then focussed on a smaller cohort of 905 couples who married for the first time after the year 2000 in the era of online dating. They were asked how much they agreed or disagreed with each of twelve reasons for why they might have got married.

Those who said they “felt they had to marry due to family pressure” – i.e. due to social pressure – had a significantly higher probability of divorce at just 34 per cent compared to 23 per cent of couples who did not identify these reasons. Put another way, couples who tied the knot due to family pressure were 50 per cent more likely to split up.

Those who agreed that their marriage “just kind of happened” – i.e. ‘slide’ into it – had a 29 per cent probability of divorce over the duration of the study compared to 22 per cent of those who disagreed.

Both of these findings take into account gender, age at marriage, occupation, where the couple met, whether they had done some form of marriage preparation or signed a prenup, how much their wedding cost, how many guests they had, and whether one of them earned more than the other or was better educated than the other.

In contrast, those who were more intentional about their marriage, who agreed that they married “in order to build our life together” – i.e. as the cornerstone of life together – were more likely to stay together. They divorced at an overall rate of just 24 per cent compared to 37 per cent among those who did not agree. Even after taking background into account, these couples were still significantly more likely to stay together, with a 23 per cent probability of divorce compared to 33 per cent for those who disagreed.

The report says: “Two other factors were also associated with a significant change in divorce risk but only over specific durations of marriage. Couples who ‘wanted to declare our commitment and plan to each other’ – i.e. signal their commitment – were less likely to divorce during the first seven years, with a raw divorce rate of 11 per cent versus 21 per cent.

“Couples who agreed that it’s ‘important that our children had parents who were married’ – i.e. marry ‘for the sake of the children’ – were less likely to divorce during the first three years (with a raw divorce rate of 2 per cent versus 9 per cent) the first seven years (8 per cent vs 21 per cent) and the first ten years (13 per cent vs 26 per cent).”

Harry Benson, Marriage Foundation’s Research Director commented: “What this research shows conclusively is that the reasons why people get married has a significant material impact to whether they stay together. While this might seem obvious, this has never been quantified. But the message is clear. Get married for love and your future together and not because it is either expected of you or because of family pressure.”

In a surprise finding the report found that nearly one in three, (29 per cent) 30-year-olds, believed that sex outside of marriage was wrong, higher than those in their 40s (18 per cent), 50s (14 per cent) and 60s (12 per cent).

Mr Benson commented: “Many social trends suggest we’re becoming more liberal. The decline in marriage rates is an example of this. But social trends change. People think that divorce rates are rising, for example, when actually they peaked in the 1990s and have been falling ever since. One of our surprising new findings is that social attitudes have also turned a corner. Among 60-year-olds, just 12 per cent think that sex outside of marriage is wrong. But in our survey, we found that proportion had more than doubled to 29 per cent among those in their 30s. Perhaps surprisingly, young adults are less liberal and more conservative than their parents. They’ve seen the damage caused by the sexual revolution and want to get back to what works. It won’t surprise me if we start to see the tide turn for marriage at some stage soon.”

He continued: “These findings also act as a rebuke to those who argue that marriage doesn’t matter and see it as a form of relationship contract or something to do. Those who marry for love and commitment are far less likely to divorce in every age group and despite the length of marriage. While those who feel pressured into marriage or just slide into marriage are much more likely to split up.

“We have long argued that the fall in divorce rates over the past thirty years is because fewer couples are marrying because they feel they have to and more couples are marrying because they really want to. Commitment and lifelong success in marriage is all about doing it because that’s what you really want.”

The report goes on: “In terms of dedication, the internal bond of commitment, thinking of your marriage as the cornerstone of life together and as a signal to one another are big positives. Sliding into marriage is a clear negative, showing a lack of deliberate intent.

“In terms of constraints, the external bonds of commitment, marrying because of social pressure is a big negative but marrying for your children is a big positive.”

The report concludes: “The main finding is that there are clear signs of a unique link between certain aspects of commitment and subsequent stability.

“The fact that any of these reasons are linked to divorce at all is pretty remarkable considering that my model already takes into account factors such as age, occupation, wedding size, whether they did marriage prep or signed a prenup, and any difference in earnings or education within each marriage.

“The model then also adds in all twelve reasons so that if any one reason is to stand out it has to include some unique characteristic that is not covered by the other eleven reasons.

“In summary, those who view their marriage as a cornerstone of life together tend to do better and those who slide into marriage or marry because of social pressure.”

Sir Paul Coleridge, founder of Marriage Foundation added: “It is often said that whether to marry and who to marry are the two most important decisions anyone ever has to take. But there is another which is every bit as important so far as the consequences for your life are concerned, namely; whether to get divorced. And of course, if there are children involved by this point the consequences can be even more drastic and far reaching. Now Harry Benson’s latest research demonstrates that there can be a discernible link between these two life changing decisions which depends to a very considerable extent upon one’s frame of mind at the outset when entering into this lifelong commitment. The more seriously and deliberately a couple take the decision to publicly commit the less likely they are to end up in the divorce courts. Drifting into marriage with only a vague idea about what the impact will be on your life over the long term undermines the psychological bond which we call commitment. If you take the decision to marry ‘reverently and soberly’ the chances are that you will join the majority cohort of spouses (60 per cent plus) who stay together ’till death do us part’.”

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