By Kevin McConaghy
There’s been some press this past week about a study by a couple of professors at Emory University. The study looked at the correlation between divorce rates and wedding expenses (among other things).
It’s worth a read, but what’s most interesting is looking at the numbers and considering what they really say. They hold some important insights for people who are seriously dating and considering putting a ring on it. Unsurprisingly, the results also seem to match up with what biblical wisdom says about dating and marriage.
So what do the numbers tell us? Below are the main takeaways.
(In all of these, I’m talking about the numbers for the overall population after the researchers take into account all other variables, like income, age, race, etc. So you can read them as “all else being equal”: if two couples are otherwise identical, then their difference on this one issue makes them more or less likely to get a divorce.)
1. People who spend more on the wedding are more likely to divorce.
Specifically, those who spend $20,000 or more are about 26% more likely to divorce than those who spend between $10k and $20k, and 55% more likely than couples who spend between $1k and $5k.
So why is this? The study doesn’t really look at the “why” (it’s correlation, not causation), but it does suggest the financial stress of wedding debt as a possibility. That makes sense, as debt is rarely a good idea, and is warned about in Scripture (Proverbs 22:7). If it’s being paid for by parents, though, it might have more to do with really wanting a wedding, and the marriage just being a side effect of that. Perhaps some people are focused more on preparing an impressive wedding than preparing for the marriage that follows.
2. Couples who have more people attend the wedding are less likely to divorce.
It probably shouldn’t be a surprise that weddings with no guests (only the couple) have the highest divorce rate; apparently what happens in Vegas doesn’t last. The divorce rate goes down 18% if you have 1-10 guests, 35% if you have 11-50 guests, 48% if you have 51-100 guests, and 58% if you have over 100.
Why? Well, at The Porch we always talk about the importance of community, and more people at the wedding can show that you have a community and family around you who support your decision to get married. And since “big” often equates to “expensive,” it suggests that couples who prioritize celebrating with people rather than impressing people have the right attitude towards weddings. (Romans 12:15)
3. Honeymoons help.
Having a honeymoon (of any kind) lowers the divorce rate by 13% compared to not having a honeymoon.
Why? I can only guess. Again, this is after controlling for all other variables in the study (without controlling for variables, the number goes up to 36%). The study didn’t ask about whether couples lived together before the wedding, though, and I’ve seen articles suggest that people who already live together are less likely to take a traditional honeymoon. (No stats on that, but I do know of someone who went fishing with the guys on his wedding night because he’d already been living with his new bride for years. Kind of takes the excitement out of the event.) Regardless, save money on your wedding so you can take a honeymoon. (Deuteronomy 24:5)
4. Faith matters.
Or, at least, “religious attendance,” which is all the study asked about. Compared to “never” attending services, those who attend “regularly” are 38% less likely to get divorced. Interestingly, those who said they attend “sometimes” had a slightly higher divorce rate than those who “never” attend.
This goes against the common misconception that believers are just as likely to divorce as non-believers. Going to church regularly doesn’t guarantee that you’re a committed follower of Christ, but if you are, then you’re almost certainly in the “regularly” crowd. A couple that goes “sometimes” could possibly be lukewarm (Revelation 3:15-16), or perhaps only one of them is a believer (2 Corinthians 6:14).
5. It’s better to wait.
People who have children together are much less likely to divorce. But if you have kids together before you tie the knot, your divorce rate is 70% higher than those who had their first kid together after getting married.
Let’s be clear: the Bible says that sex should be saved for marriage. I know that might sound crazy to some people in today’s culture, but it’s true, for a variety of reasons. This would be one of those reasons. But, mistakes are made, and it’s always better to choose life: according to the study, people who have a child together out of wedlock and then get married are still 55% less likely to divorce than those who have no kids at all. (1 Corinthians 7:8-9; 1 Thessalonians 4:3-6)
6. Don’t focus on wealth.
If people said that their partner’s wealth was important to them at the time of the proposal, they were 34% more likely to get divorced down the road. (For women who focused on wealth, the number goes up to 57%.)
Basically: don’t be a gold-digger, and don’t marry one. (1 Timothy 6:10; Ecclesiastes 5:10)
7. Don’t focus on looks.
If people said their partner’s looks were important to them at the time of the proposal, they were 29% more likely to divorce. (And that’s mostly on the guys’ side; for men who focused on looks, the number was 49%.)
People age. As JP says, “We’re all getting uglier.” A lifelong commitment like marriage can’t be based on how she (or he) looks, because those looks will fade. It’s cliché, but you really should date and marry someone who is beautiful on the inside. (Proverbs 31:30)
Some other takeaways from the study: people who “knew spouse very well” before getting married were much less likely to divorce (no surprise there), and dating longer before proposing helped with that. And though many articles focused on how the cost of the engagement ring affected things, the numbers there aren’t that clear. I’d say be wise and ask your community for advice when ring shopping.
For those who are married: is there anything about your wedding or dating decisions that you wish you’d done differently?