A few weeks ago, we wrote a blog post about measurable factors that affect the divorce rate. We found that variables like age, income level, and educational degree have a significant statistical impact on the national divorce rate. In a nutshell, the conclusion among divorce experts was that the older, wealthier, and more educated you are at the time you get married, the more likely your marriage is to pass the test of time. On the other hand, the younger, less affluent, and less formally educated you are, the more likely you are to end up filing for divorce later down the road.
In our last post about divorce rates, we focused on how “positive” factors drive marital success. This time around, our New Jersey divorce attorneys are taking a closer look at how and why “negative” factors have the opposite effect. In particular, we’ll examine the documented phenomenon of marriage and age, and why divorce rates increase if you’re under 25.
Why Is the Divorce Rate in New Jersey So Low?
Naomi Cahn, a professor at George Washington University Law School, says that “Marriages are more likely to last for longer periods of time when people marry at an older age, have a higher education and earn more, and New Jersey scores high on these three criteria.”
Cahn is certainly correct in her assessment of Garden State marriages: according to statistics, New Jerseyans do tend to marry in financial comfort. In fact, the New Jersey median household income is $67,681, the second highest in the nation.
Married couples in New Jersey are also exceptionally well-educated. 42% of couples who marry in New Jersey have bachelors degrees, compared to a national rate of only 31%.
In addition to high rankings where income and education are concerned, New Jersey also ranks nationally at number three for oldest average age at time of marriage (with Massachusetts and New York just ahead). While that may not sound like the most glamorous title, its effects have been hugely beneficial to betrothed New Jerseyans, who enjoy the lowest divorce rate in the United States. So how does the marriage age demographic break down? In New Jersey:
- The average marriage age for men is exactly 30 years.
- The average marriage age for women is 27.9 years.
That means women pass the 25 cut-off by a healthy margin of nearly three years, with a very comfortable five-year margin for men. But why is 25 years of age the cut-off for marital success in the first place? Isn’t that just an arbitrary “guesstimate”? Not according to the numbers.
If You’re 24 or Younger, You’re Twice as Likely to Get Divorced
The New Jersey divorce rate is exceptionally low due to three factors: age, income, and education. But while all of these variables work in tandem to help or harm a given marriage, the factor which seems to be dominate is age — in particular, the age of 25.
We always hear that “50% of marriages end in divorce.” That’s a somewhat mythical figure, and in reality, divorce rates have been estimated as landing closer to 30 or 40%. But for people within certain age ranges, the famous 50% statistic is actually low. To quote the National Center for Health Statistics:
60 percent of marriages for couples between the ages of 20 and 25 end in divorce.
For couples were are even younger, the prognosis becomes bleaker still. In their article titled “Cohabitation, Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage in the United States,” cited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), M.D. Bramlett and W.D. Mosher found that nationally, 59% of marriages to women who were younger than 18 at the time of marriage will end in divorce within 15 years. In other words, nearly two thirds of all marriages to teenaged women fail within two decades.
According to the CDC, in 2011, the divorce rates by age group and gender were:
- 27.6% of women aged 19 or younger
- 11.7% of men aged 19 or younger
- 36.6% of women aged 20-24
- 38.8% of men aged 20-24
But at 25, something dramatic happens. Statistics show that the divorce rates plummet by nearly half for both genders:
- 16.4% of women aged 25-29 (compared with 36.6% for the average 24-year-old woman)
- 22.3% of men aged 25-29 (compared with 38.8% for the average 24-year-old man)
Interestingly, the effects of age on divorce manifest themselves along geographical lines as well as biological lines. To go back to our starting point, you’ll recall that the divorce rate in New Jersey is exceptionally low, largely because the marriage age is exceptionally high. Logic dictates that the inverse must be true as well — and the statistics are there to support it. In states where the divorce rate is high, the average age at time of marriage is low.
For example, in Idaho, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, as many as 50% of first-time brides were 24 or younger when their marriage took place. During 2006 and 2007, the female divorce rate in these states was higher than the national average. While youth appears to play a slightly less significant role in the divorce rate among men, it’s still a key factor, as evidenced by recent CDC figures.
Why is 25 the “Magic Number” for Successful Marriages?
We’ve established that once people hit 25 years old, the divorce rate seems to plummet. But why? Many experts chalk it up to lack of emotional experience, insufficient financial support, and hasty unions.
Jennifer Glass, sociology professor at the University of Texas at Austin, says, “It appears that the cessation of education, early marriage and early parenthood, you’re set up for relationship conflict, financial stress and dissolution.” Glass’ theory ties neatly into Naomi Cahn’s assertion that the continuation of education and late marriage (and consequent late parenthood) are the driving forces behind marital success. It’s a classic case of what goes up, must come down.
Some experts think that the older couples are at the time of their marriage, the more hobbies they’re likely to share in common. Paul Amato, a sociologist at Pennsylvania State University, says, “Older marriages (30s versus 20s) were more cohesive in the sense that they did things together more often as a couple.”
Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist from Johns Hopkins University, supports Amato’s ideas. Cherlin says, “People are more concerned with their own self-development than they used to be. Therefore, people are postponing marriage until everything in their lives is working ‘in order.’ The order means after you’ve finished your education, perhaps after beginning your career… they’re postponing marriage until they think they’re ready for it.”
Perhaps the end of Cherlin’s statement is the most important: “until they think they’re ready for it” is a telling fragment. It implies that couples who rush into marriage when they’re young — perhaps even fresh out of high school, with limited knowledge of their own hopes, dreams, and capabilities — simply lack the experiential tools to know whether or not they are “ready.” They marry because their friends are getting married, because it’s what’s accepted by (or even expected in) the community, and whether or not they’re actually prepared falls by the wayside.
Kay Moffett thinks this may be the root of the problem. Moffett, author of Not Your Mother’s Divorce: A Practical Guide to Surviving the End of a Young Marriage, says, “I advise couples to wait until they’re in their late 20s to marry. This allows for a period of identity exploration and a time to figure one’s self out. Most couples who plunge into wedlock early do so for the wrong reason.” If you would like to speak with an experienced New Jersey divorce lawyer, call the law offices of Maselli Warren at (800) 891-2657, or contact us online.