Assessing Your Divorce Risk

What are the odds of your marriage ending in divorce?

This is a risk with some pretty important consequences, but chances are, you don’t have the foggiest idea on how to quantify it. Until now.

My favorite economist (and my significant other), Betsey Stevenson, has put together a neat online widget for the folks at Divorce360.com. The widget crunches recent marital history data to assess your chances of getting divorced, and it does this by taking account of some very simple demographics. Learn your divorce risk here.

It is hard to overstate how big of a leap forward this calculator is. Those of us who are optimists may not want the facts — we just assume that the risk is zero. And those who want to be realists have probably learned that without usable data, being realistic isn’t easy. Perhaps the realists have a vague memory of reading that one in two marriages end in divorce. But this just isn’t true, even if it was true for my (divorced) parents’ generation.

And the national average just isn’t that informative anyway, as there is enormous variation in divorce risk across demographic groups. My graduate-school friends — say, male college grads who married in their early 30′s and have been married for five years — are in a demographic where only 5 percent have divorced so far, and perhaps another 7 percent may divorce in the next five years. By contrast, among male high-school grads who married in their early 20′s, around 19 percent divorced in the first five years of marriage, with another 37 percent likely to separate over the next five years.

The point is that factors like age at first marriage and education tell us a lot about divorce risk. Let’s not confuse correlation and causation though — these divorce risks are useful as statistical forecasts (even if they can’t answer the “what if” question) of how divorce risks change if you delay your marriage.

I’m interested in learning whether your divorce risk was higher or lower than you expected. What did you find?

More detail here; F.A.Q.’s are here. The academic research underpinning this widget is available here (and the aggregate trends are discussed here and here).

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  1. Shaun Dakin says:

    I ran through this a week ago when I discovered this website and was surprised that my marriage risk was much lower than expected (50%) and was around 4%.

    The problem is, the only number that really maters is 1, you and your marriage.

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  2. jz says:

    After 26 years of comfortable monogamy, my husband and I are tiptoeing towards an open marriage. With trepidation, I checked the online assessment, but, predictably the US Census doesn’t ask how many of us try open marriages. So far, I can cite far more benefits than problems. Trust liberates.

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  3. Carolyn says:

    According to that widget, my chance of divorce in the next five years is 18%, while my husband’s chance of divorce in the next five years is 6%. Somehow, I think this is problematic – the unit of analysis should be the marriage, not the person.

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  4. RUBBA says:

    Wow!!!
    “People with similar backgrounds who will be divorced over the next five years: N/A “

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  5. mi says:

    Professor Wolfers – How did your own results compare with your expectations?

    I am single, so no comment from me…

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  6. Amanda says:

    Seems to me race, socio-economic class, and number of previous marriages are also relevant. If the number of marriages ending in divorce approaches 50% then over 7% risk can’t be high risk because 50% should be average risk. Some couples have to defy odds by staying together with an 85% risk of divorce or something. I also agree with the above comment

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  7. Jon Bohlinger says:

    I believe John Gottman has done a significant amount of research into this and come to some amazing conclusions. He has come up with some real, quantifiable things that can be done to decrease the odds of divorce considerably. Real, scholarly research that is really well funded.

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  8. Jesse says:

    Chances are, if you’re going to a “will I get a divorce” calculator, you’re going to get a divorce.

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