An article from the Sacramento Bee explains why some marriages last longer than others.
A key reason, said University of Virginia sociologist Brad Wilcox, is that a greater proportion of older adults come from large families, born into an era when big families were the norm in American life – and research shows that having lots of siblings correlates with a lower statistical likelihood of divorce.
“In terms of some social outcomes, kids from large families are more likely to flourish,” said Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project. “They’re less likely to get divorced. It might be the experience early in life of learning to share so much and live with the exceptional stress of having all those different personalities to deal with.”
Ohio State University research suggests that only children are the least likely to marry and most at risk of divorcing, while people with four to seven siblings have markedly lower rates of divorce.
Maybe people from big families grow up knowing that they’re not going to win every battle. Maybe they understand from birth that they’re not alone in life. Or maybe they learn early on to play well with others.
“All those life experiences may have prepared them better for marriage,” Wilcox said.
These long unions stand out in the shifting landscape of marriage. While 78 percent of American adults were married in 1950, according to census data, only about half are married today, and they’re waiting longer to do so. The age of first marriage for men has risen to almost 30, compared to 23 in 1960. Fewer people marry each year, and confidence in marriage is at such a low point that a recent Pew Research Center survey showed that 40 percent of unmarried Americans think the concept of marriage is outdated.
Even for older Californians, the chances of staying married are decreasing. The number of adults ages 60 and older who are divorced has risen steadily in Sacramento County and across the state during the last decade, census figures show. About 19.2 percent of Sacramento County residents past 60 are currently divorced, compared to 14.1 percent in 2005. Statewide, about 15.2 percent of residents 60 and older are divorced, compared to 13.1 percent nine years ago.
Todd Migliaccio, a California State University, Sacramento, sociology professor, has researched marriages that have lasted 30 years or longer to figure out what keeps couples together. The traditional reasons for marriage – financial support, child-rearing, family stability and longstanding gender roles – aren’t necessarily factors that speak to 21st-century couples. So what makes marriage last?
Friendship, his research shows: Marriages that endure no matter what tend to involve couples who genuinely like each other and enjoy each other’s company.
“We’re seeing more and more couples that have lasted where friendship is one of the big factors,” he said. “And if they’re from a close family, that provides a huge social network that contributes to marital longevity.
“Couples have more to draw on and more commitment to the greater good of the family.”
And what about couples who attend church regularly? Does that help?
“The important thing is that people are integrating into a religious community as a couple,” said the National Marriage Project’s Wilcox. “People who regularly attend religious services together are more likely to stay together.
“But people who don’t go to church together are more likely to get divorced than the average American.”
So, if you want to help your own children have a better chance at making their marriages work, have more kids, not less.