If you ask friends, family, or a random stranger when the best time to get married is, you’ll get a range of answers, ranging from “right now” to “never”. Really, if marriage is on the mind, you should get it done whenever you and your partner want – but what does science have to say about it?
A marriage-focused study from 2015 has been doing the rounds again online, so we thought we’d dig up three analyses and see if we could make any sense of the optimum time to hook up until death do you part.
Let’s take a look at that recent bit of research. Led by the Institute of Family Studies (IFS) at the University of Utah, a painstaking look through the US marriage and divorce rates – when it comes to the first marriage – revealed that those that married in their 20s were the least likely to get divorced.
Teenage marriage has the highest risk of divorce, which isn’t that surprising; the social stigma, parental disapproval, and drastically evolving personalities often trigger a quick break-up and legal separation.
From about the age of 25 onwards, there’s a lot of statistical noise, but on average, the divorce rate drops off slightly into the 40s.
These were the statistics based on the data from 1995. Between 2006 and 2010, things changed a bit. Although the risk for teenage divorce remained the highest, the divorce risk was lowest for people in their late-20s or early-30s. Curiously, from this point onwards, the divorce risk ramps up to almost match that of the teenage risk by the mid-40s.
According to the researchers at IFS, when controlling for respondents’ sex, race, family structure, age, education, religious tradition, and sexual history, the trend of increased risk post-30s persists. In fact, past the age of 32, the odds of divorce increase by 5 percent per year past the age of marriage.
Although a few ideas have been put forwards to explain this recent shift, the authors suggest that “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.”
People have been fairly critical of parts of this research’s implications. A researcher at the University of Maryland, using a female-only survey, suggested that the best age to get married, with regards to a low divorce risk, was 45-49 – extremely late by most people’s standards.
This set off a bit of tit-for-tat between the two universities. Phillip Cohen, from Maryland, says that the 2015 study by Nick Wolfinger and Brad Wilcox of Utah don’t reveal much about their data analysis, and they don’t take into account marriage duration – a key measure of a marriage’s success.
Wolfinger has responded by publishing more data on his own work. He also pointed out that Cohen has only included recent divorces, not older ones, which means that he’s missed out on a huge chunk of divorces in his analysis.
So who’s more on the money? Well, a third analysis by a journalist and a cognitive scientist has suggested that the ideal age is in fact 26. It’s based on the “37 percent rule.” According to mathematical theory, the best time to make decisions on anything when you have limited resources – like time, or “subjects” – is when you have seen 37 percent of the options.
So if you dated people between the ages of 18 and 40, you should wait until you’re 37 percent of the way through your dating lifetime in order to have enough “data” to pick your ideal partner. That’s 26 years of age.