Marriage Statistics: Do Marriages Really Last?
Updated February 25, 2020
Reviewer Stephanie Beebe, MSW, LISW-S
Marriage is an often-discussed topic, usually with some amount of mockery or derision. Although most people have a story about someone they love or someone they know who has been married for years upon years, and who loves being married, those same people can usually also point to someone who had a horrendous marriage and similarly atrocious divorce. Marriage, though it promises starry eyes, forevers, and unending declarations of adoration, often results in anger, frustration, and resentment, which begs the question: do marriages really last?
Define Marriage: What is Modern Marriage?
Marriage is defined as a legal contract between two people, wherein they and their belongings are united as a single front. Although the dynamics within marriages might not always reflect this-some people maintain separate bank accounts or vehicles, for instance-the legality of marriage dictates that property and ownership be shared within a marriage.
A marriage requires both parties to get a license from the city, county, or state in which they live, which is then signed by a member of the clergy or a justice of the peace in order to declare the marriage legally binding and legitimate. While many marriages incorporate religious ceremonies or similar beliefs outside of the realm of legal requirements, modern requirements for marriage focus far less on the religious aspects of the union, and far more on the simple legality of the transaction.
What Are the Benefits of Marriage?
There are numerous benefits of marriage, in many different aspects of life. Marriage has benefits in physical, emotional, sexual, and monetary realms, and all of these can be gleaned from any number of marriages; you do not have to be on your first marriage to see benefits from the union.
People who are married are linked to greater physical health. Married people are less likely to have heart conditions, high blood pressure, and other cardiovascular illnesses, and are more likely to seek treatment for existing illness. This may be because partners hold one another accountable and encourage them to see a doctor if something seems amiss, or it may be because partners want to spend as much time as possible together. Whatever the actual reason, research shows that married people live longer.
Married people also demonstrate better emotional health. People who are married consistently report higher levels of life satisfaction and overall happiness when compared with people who do not have a spouse. There are many possible reasons for this, among them the notion that having a partner with which to do life is a great source of joy, as well as the idea that partners are more likely to tend to their needs than people who do not have someone to share their feelings, desires, and needs with.
Married people are also linked to having more sex than their single counterparts. Although this is often joked to be the opposite of the truth, as marriage is commonly considered the death of a couple's sex life, married couples actually do have more sex than single people. This is likely due to simple availability; single people and people in short-term relationships simply do not have the same access to and availability of sex as those with a long-term, committed partner within a marriage.
Finally, there are some tax benefits to being married versus being single. When you are married, your tax information is changed, and you may be entitled certain tax breaks that single people-or people in long-term relationships who are not married-are not privy to. These laws vary from state to state, but marriage can be helpful when identifying tax benefits both during your lifetime, and after one member of the marriage has died.
Most people believe the purpose of marriage is to solidify your commitment to a partner whom you love. One study found that 88% of people believed that the best reason to marry was being in love with someone, with a close second of 81% believing that marriage is good because it means forming a life-long attachment to someone.
How Many People Are Actually Getting Married?
Marriage rates differ based on age and gender, but at least 90% of men and women aged 50 and over are married, or have been married at some point. This means that the vast majority of the population has gotten married at some point in their lives. At least 69% of men and 76% of women between the ages of 15 and 50 were married, or had been married at some point in their lives.
The timing of first marriages has changed quite a bit since the 1990s. While women used to be much younger when entering into their first marriage, women are now, on average, aged 28 when they first get married, while men are, on average, aged 30. Although the ages at which people are getting married are changing, the rates of marriage themselves are remaining relatively stable, with a small decline of around 8% in marriage overall.
How Common is Divorce?
Divorce rates vary from community to community and differ greatly in different age groups. Divorce is much higher in older populations, for instance, than in younger generations; more older marriages are failing, while younger marriages are thriving. The statistics on divorce can be difficult to nail down, but most statistics suggest that between 1 in 3 first marriages end in divorce, or 40% of first marriages end in divorce, with each subsequent marriage experiencing a larger likelihood of ending in divorce, with statistics as high as 60-80 percent for 2nd and 3rd marriages.
What Factors Encourage Longer-Lasting Marriages?
What seems to be the greatest determiner in whether or not a marriage is a happy or successful one is the presence of positivity and positive feelings within a marriage. One psychiatrist found that neither the number of fights a couple has, nor the duration of fighting was a reliable indication of a couple's happiness with or commitment to one another. Many couples who fought-even in seemingly unhealthy ways-continued to have long-standing, loving relationships provided that their negative interactions with one another were outweighed by positive interactions 5 to 1. This "magic number" seemed to be more accurate in telling the psychiatrist whether or not a marriage would last, suggesting that long-lasting marriages are more a result of a couple continuing to choose one another than any other cause.
The origin of your relationship can also play a role in whether or not your marriage lasts. People who had a strong foundation of friendship from the outset are far more likely to have a marriage that lasts than people who began their union entirely with passionate lovemaking, or another form of strict infatuation. It is not that relationships that have sex or passion as a base cannot survive, but passion usually fades within a relationship, and marriages that can pick up a close friendship after the passion has faded are more likely to go the distance.
Practicing forgiveness is another key aspect of making sure your marriage lasts, as holding onto grudges and indulging in constant complaints or criticisms of your partner breeds resentment and anger. Resentment and anger are not necessarily responsible for obliterating marriages but certainly lend a hand in their downward spiral. Marriages that last involve two people who are willing to forgive one another-and themselves-for mistakes they've made, including harsh words they might have thrown at each other in the midst of an intense fight.
The willingness to work is the final determiner in whether or not a marriage will last. Making a marriage work is difficult and requires plenty of attention, effort, and sacrifice. Making your marriage work might mean bringing in a therapist at some point to help you work together toward a future, or it might mean laying down some of your dreams in the pursuit of shared dreams. People who are willing to put in time and effort are far more likely to maintain their marriage than people who are seeking out an easy, straightforward path.
Do Marriages Truly Last?
Whether or not marriages last depends entirely on the people involved, their backgrounds, and their commitment levels. For some, trials like infidelity are the nail in the coffin, while others consider setbacks such as these bumps in the road toward spending their life with someone. Some people see marriage as an eternal commitment-or at least a life-long one-while others see marriage as something that can be terminated if the terms of their marriage contract are not quite met.
Whether or not marriages last also seems to be dependent on the support systems spouses have in place. People who come from families where divorce is the norm are more likely to get divorced, while people who come from families where divorce is rare are more likely to remain married to their first partner. This is not necessarily an indication of some sort of family flaw or drawback, but instead illustrates the likelihood of different types of support. People who have been divorced may be more likely to encourage others to take that step, while people who have remained in a marriage may be more likely to encourage others to stick it out, no matter what.
Ultimately, you get out of marriage what you put into it. Although there are certainly situations in which marriage is no longer a viable option-as may be the case when repeated infidelity is involved, or abuse is at play-many people have found that virtually every challenge found within marriage can be worked through and overcome with the right support system, dedication, and attitude about your marriage.