Does Age Affect Marital Breakdown?

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Opinions on the ideal age to get married vary greatly depending on culture, race, social, and financial status.  For this article, we will deal with marriage and the cohabitation that comes with it in the circle of the adult society.

Studies show that divorce or separation is about twice as high for women who marry before they are twenty years old, compared to those between the ages of twenty and twenty four.  These marriages are particularly at risk if the couple married because of premarital pregnancy or if the marriage proves to be infertile.

One of the factors which has undoubtedly increased the incidence of visible marital breakdown is when one or both partners is below the age of twenty.   This shows that the earlier a person marries, the greater the chances of one or both partners’ needs changing to such an extent that intolerable pressures are put on the relationship.  It is also worth bearing in mind that, as long as life expectancy continues to increase, so does the average length of a lifelong marriage.  In 1911, “till death do us part” meant, on the average, twenty eight years; in 1967, forty two years.  In 2006, TIME magazine stated that “An average couple now has a 57% chance of seeing their 15th wedding anniversary.”

Reasons for marital breakdown tend to depend not only on the age of the partners at marriage but also on the “age” of the marriage itself.  The British statistics showing the percentage of divorces according to the duration of the marriage are striking in that one in five of the marriages ending in divorce has in fact, lasted twenty years or more (even if masked breakdown has actually taken place some years previously).  A marriage which has “lasted” fifteen or twenty years breaks down for very different reasons from those of a marriage which ends after a year.

Marriages can be broadly divided into at least three phases.  The first stage spans approximately the initial first five years of marriage, during which breakdown is the result of failure to establish the necessary minimum physical and emotional relationship.  Marriages which negotiate this phase with reasonable success enter a second phase during which the couple may have to cope with adjusting to a broadened family life involving children, employment or unemployment, parenting, and the changing needs of both partners.  The third phase, starting about twenty years of marriage, typically sees the children leaving home, the wife or the husband making a career change or retirement, and coping with the wife’s menopausal problems, and the husband with mid-life crisis involving a compromise with the early career aspirations and awareness of encroaching age.  From the statistics, it is clear that 14 percent fail at the first hurdle, further 53 percent or more fail to negotiate the second phase, and 33 percent of marriages fail after fifteen years or more. 

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