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New Research into Likelihood of Divorce

Couples who marry after their first child is born now stay together at the same rate as those who marry before the child arrives, according to new research presented to the Council on Contemporary Families.

Researchers from Cornell University and University of Michigan compared couples who had their first child between 1985 and 1995 and those who had their first child after 1997.

Consistent with the “old facts” of family life, couples from the earlier period who married after the birth of their child were 60% more likely to divorce than couples who married before having a child. But just a decade later, couples who married after their child’s birth, whether one year later or five, had no higher a chance of divorce than couples who had a baby after marriage.

Apparently, the timing of new parents’ marriage didn’t matter, but getting married did. Cohabiting parents who did not marry at all had a break-up rate twice as high as those who got married. About 30% of cohabiting new parents had broken up within five years of the birth of a child.

“This research is one more example of the remarkably rapid changes occurring in ‘the rules of romance’ between men and women,” commented Stephanie Coontz, Council on Contemporary Families’ Director of Research and Education. “Marrying at a later age than average used to raise a woman’s chance of divorce. So did having more education than her husband. So did living together before marriage. None of those things is a risk any more. In fact, delaying marriage lowers a woman’s risk of divorce, and having less education than her husband raises it.”

“The early stages of the struggle for gender equality destabilised marriage and led to sharp drops in fertility. But a recent study by Frances Goldscheider suggests that the further progress of gender equality makes couples more stable and even encourages women to have a second child,” she added. “It’s an exciting time for family researchers because the dynamics of relationships are changing so quickly.”

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