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Research Finds Marriage ‘Sweet Spot’ for Twenty-Somethings by Bridget Ryder

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Research Finds Marriage ‘Sweet Spot’ for Twenty-Somethings

Recent research has challenged conventional wisdom that it’s best to marry after age 30 to lower the chances of divorce.

A study from the U.S.-based Institute for Family Studies (IFS) found evidence that under the right conditions, women who marry in their 20s are less likely to divorce than women who marry later. 

“There may be a ‘sweet spot’ for marriage in the 20s: early 20s for direct-marriers, and late-20s for cohabiters. Postponement beyond that age does little for marital stability, judging by the NSFG data,” the published report stated. 

Led by Lyman Stone and W. Bradford Wilcox, “The Religious Marriage Paradox: Younger Marriage, Less Divorce” study analysed reports of marriage and divorce from more than 50,000 women in the U.S. government’s National Survey of Family Growth (NFSG). 

Broadly, the IFS study confirms earlier research on premarital cohabitation and subsequent divorce, such as this recent Stanford University study, showing that cohabiting before marriage, especially with someone other than a future spouse, is associated with an increased risk of divorce. 

The IFS study found that women who entered directly into marriage without cohabitating had a 4% chance of getting divorced. Among those who cohabitated with only their spouse before marriage the chances for divorce rose by 1% but jumped 25% for those women who cohabitated with multiple partners before marriage. 

Controlling for religion, it found that the cohabitation factor in divorce rates held true for both religiously and non-religiously educated women, though women raised in a religious household were less likely to cohabitate before marriage. 

At the same time, the study further broke down divorce rates by age, finding that in general delaying marriage until age 20 lowered the chances of divorce while delaying marriage until age 30 did not, though interesting details and nuances also came through in the statistics. 

“Age at marriage also matters, but in different ways for different groups,” the researchers stated.

“For religious women who cohabitate before marriage, age is extremely important,” the study said. “Women raised in a religious household who cohabitate have very high divorce risks if they marry before age 20, but the lowest risks of any group of women who marry in their 30s.”

By contrast, for women raised in a nonreligious home and who cohabitate before marriage, the chances of divorce were lowest if marriage was delayed until their late twenties but rose again slightly if delayed past age 30. 

“That is to say, for nonreligious women who cohabitate before marriage, there is something like a Nike-swoosh shape to divorce risks…For these women, getting married in their late 20s maximises marital stability,” the researchers concluded.

For religious women who directly married, from age 20 to 29, without cohabitating, there was no difference in divorce rates, but the risk rose modestly among those who married in their 30s. 

Despite certain conventional wisdom that marrying at an older age increases marriage stability, “these results suggest delaying marriage doesn’t always make it more stable,” the researchers concluded. 

Bridget Ryder is Spain-based writer. She has written on politics, environment, and culture for American and international publications. She holds degrees in Spanish and Catholic Studies.