Volume 29 - Article 7 | Pages 167–202  

Age at marriage and the risk of divorce in England and Wales

By Richard Lampard


Background: A well-documented association exists between age at marriage and the risk of divorce. However, substantial gaps in our knowledge and understanding of ist origins, nature, and implications still exist.

Objective: This article documents the relationship between women’s ages at first marriage and marriage cohort divorce rates, assessing the importance of relative ages at marriage (based on rankings within marriage cohorts) and of absolute, chronological ages at marriage, and evaluating the contribution of changes in the age at marriage distribution to observed divorce rates.

Methods: Direct standardisation and logistic regression analyses are applied to published marriage and divorce data for the 1974-1994 marriage cohorts in England and Wales.

Results: Changing ages at marriage appear to have constrained the rise in divorce across the cohorts examined. However, the results suggest that much of the impact of age at marriage is linked to relative ages, reducing the extent of this ‘braking’ effect. It also appears that a positive effect of relative age at marriage on the risk of divorce for later marriages is outweighed by the negative effect of absolute age at marriage at higher ages.

Conclusions: Both explanations relating to ‘maturity’ and explanations focusing on ‘selection’ or ‘marriage markets’ appear of relevance to the association between age at marriage and divorce.

Comments: The data source provides over five million cases; however, it does not provide any scope to control for cohabitation, education, etc., and the analyses are restricted to divorces within about ten years of marriage. Further, related studies would be useful.

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