Do most marriages last?
One of the most oft-repeated statements about marriage is that about half of them end in divorce. Some new federal data finds that the state of matrimony in the United States doesn't seem to have improved much.
About two-thirds of marriages last at least 10 years, according to the latest survey by the National Center for Health Statistics. That's about the same as it was the last time the survey was conducted in 1995, when researchers found that after 20 years, that number fell to about 50 percent. The new survey didn't go out that many years. But William Mosher, a statistician who worked on the new survey, says the assumption is that the numbers would probably be about the same.
The finding comes from the National Family Growth Survey, which conducted detailed interviews with a nationally representative sample of 12,571 men and women ages 15 to 44 in 2002.
The survey found that 65 percent of marriages lasted at least a decade. But that wasn't true for everyone. Those who are better educated, for example, were much more likely to remain married. Just 54 percent of women with only high school diplomas stayed married for 10 years, compared to 78 percent of women with college degrees, the survey found. Likewise, only 54 percent of women who married before age 20 stayed married for more than 10 years, compared with 76 percent of those who waited until they were at least 26 to get hitched.
Another interesting finding from the survey was about cohabitation. A majority of couples who live together end up marrying, the survey found. Fifty-one percent of cohabitating couples ended up married within three years, and 65 percent marry within five years, according to the survey. It also found that most married people have lived with someone first, challenging the notion that living together first is necessarily a bad idea.
But there's also a big difference here in terms of education. Less than half of women with high school diplomas end up marrying the man they live with, whereas about 79 percent of women with college degrees marry their live-in boyfriends.
The statistics are very similar for men.
The survey did not examine the reasons for the differences. Mosher says a variety of factors are probably involved, including the fact that less educated women may simply be less able to afford to get married.
Andrew Cherlin, a professor of sociology and public policy at Johns Hopkins University, points out that cohabitation is much more common in Europe than it is in the United States. In countries such as France and Sweden, many couples' cohabitation has essentially become a substitute for marriage. Many of them live together for long periods. In the United States, although cohabitation has become much more common and accepted, most cohabiting couples either break up or get married within about three years.
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