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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 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).