So, how stable is marriage nowadays?

Over in the GD on gay adoptions, the issue of the stability of marriages has come up. Rather than hijack that thread, I thought I’d start a new one.

spooje said:

To which I replied:

I’m way out of my own area on this issue, so would appreciate any comments you guys can provide: how stable is the marriage relationship these days in Canada/the U.S.?

Here’s one example of the stats that I was referring to in my post in the other thread. The issue of the stability of marriage came up tangentially in a recent decision of the Supreme Court of Canada, dealing with property distribution laws for common law couples: Nova Scotia (Attorney General) v. Walsh, 2002 SCC 83. (This is the same case that was discussed in this thread.) One of the majority judges, Mr. Justice Gonthier, made this statement:

My first reaction to the 90% figure was that seemed high, since the divorce rate in Canada tends to be around 40%. Then I realised that the divorce rate only speaks to the ultimate outcome of the marriage, it doesn’t say how long people stick together before divorce. Just citing the overall divorce rate, and not including the average duration prior to divorce, may give a misleading impression of the stability of marriages nowadays.

Can anyone who knows more about this issue (given my low level of knowledge, that’s not a very demanding standard :smiley: ) cast any light on this question? is the position in the U.S. comparable to these Canadian stats?

What you’ve discovered about these tossed-about stats is certainly consistent with what I have read in the area.

A substantial percentage of ALL THE MARRIAGES ENTERED INTO do end in divorce; AND the average term of a so-called common law marriage is (it seems) significantly less than the average term of “first marriages” (the quotes are because it is not clear whether one-and-only marriages are counted as “first marriages”).

But I BELIEVE I have read that later-in-life marriages have a much greater tendency to endure (that is–calibrated with reference to the age of the partners, not whether the marriage is a Second, Third, or whatever).

One might want to see not only the AVERAGE (which can be distorted by unusual cases) but the MEDIAN of the lengths of marriage per these various factors. (That is to say, if first marriages include a lot of “impulse marriages” that are over in weeks or months, the AVERAGE will make getting married look much chancier than it really is.)

The real problem that I see in the comparison of marriage success rates to those of common law relationships is one of definition. It’s pretty clear when one is married, they have a nice little ceremony, sign some papers, maybe throw a little party for friends. Common law, on the other hand, is a legal definition that may not sufficiently describe a given relationship situation. Couple A might decide that they do not believe in marriage but are entirely committed to each other and move in together and live together for several years. Couple B might decide that they’re interested in getting married but maybe they’d like a bit of a trial run first to see if they’re really compatible and live together. If couple A splits up, that’s pretty analagous to getting a divorce and a valid comparison to make. If couple B splits up, that’s not getting married in the first place and has no place in these statistics.

There are good stats on this site. But specifically to ** Scott D** pont re the duration of marriage before divorce is important – "“Distribution of Divorces by Length of Marriage” is the stat – but I link to the whole Marriage stat thing as it is very useful.

If you want to see how Intl’ Dopers might respond look at The International Comarisons of the Divorce Rates

Slight hijack, but you might want to consider couples living together before marriage as a factor. I was living with my (future) wife for 4 years before we tied the knot, and as of 1 year now, we are still very stable. Society’s norms, and all that, aside, what other reasons are there for 2 adults not to explore a potential lifelong partnership by trying it out first?

Perhaps its the reverence that we have for marriage that leads to such a high divorce rate.

Sounds crazy, I know, but bear with me for a moment.

When a lot of couples picture marriage, they see a lifetime of perfect compatibility and happiness, passion and romance. We expect our marriages to always be a picture of wedded bliss . . . two people striding into the sunset, bound for eternal happiness with one another. Also, people tend to think that they’ll always be passionately in love, and have fabulous sex for the rest of their lives. Whether or not this is unrealistic is not the point, people tend to see marriage as and “end.” Boy meets girl, they fall in love, then they wed. That’s where the movie ends.

People sometimes are not prepared for the inevitable “mellowing” that comes with a long, stable relationship. The excitement palls after a while, and your love tends to turn almost into a quiet compainionship. People who want the excitement and passion of a relationship to stay the exact same forever are often dissillusioned and unhappy. Sometimes, having children kills the romance more quickly than in a couple who remains childless. After a while, people can get restless and unhappy, feeling like something’s missing out of their life. They’re looking for that notion of eternal passion and romance, and when they don’t have it with their spouse, they may want to divorce, feeling that something must be wrong with their marriage.

In the past, marriage was an end. If you weren’t happy with your partner, for whatever reason, you had to tough it out. They tried to fix the marriage that they had, rather than just give up and seek happiness elsewhere. Knowing that marriage was more or less permanant, and not always roses and passion gave people a more realistic expectation of what their marriage would be like. Knowing that there wasn’t an easy out meant people had to work harder to try and make it work.

In conclusion, prehaps if people had more of a realistic notion of marriage, rather than picturing the Hollywood version, perhaps there would be less divorce.

The Rutgers National Marriage Project has a lot of statistical information on marriage and cohabitation, including trends reporting for the last few years.

One of their findings that tended to be a bit controversial was that people who cohabitated before marriage had a somewhat higher rate of divorce than people who did not. People like James Dobson leaped on that figure, asserting that those who had cohabitated had developed an attitude that they could leave at any time, an attitude that they carried into the marriage.
However, the Rugers report never made that assertion, only noting the statistics. There could be any number of reasons for the figure–such as that the same religion-directed people who would not cohabitate were also the people who would avoid divorce for religious reasons, despite the conditions of the marriage.

At any rate, there are a number of reports and tables on the site. (The tables are not always easy to find and compare, as they tend to be used as demonstrative inserts into essays rather than clearly delineated tables, by themselves.)