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How to improve your odds of a divorce-proof marriage

Couple smashing wedding ring
Reuters/Yuriko Nakao
Don't let that mallet fall.
Published This article is more than 2 years old.

A diamond is forever, but an expensive engagement ring means the marriage might not last that long. According to a new study, spending between $2,000 and $4,000 on an engagement ring is significantly associated with an increase in the risk of divorce.

The data scientist Randal Olson recently visualized some of the findings from a paper by Andrew Francis and Hugo Mialon, two researchers at Emory University who studied 3,000 married couples in the US to determine the factors that predicted divorce. They analyzed income, religious attendance, how important attractiveness was to each partner, wedding attendance, and other metrics to determine the aspects associated with eventual marital dissolution.

Their findings offer some take-aways for couples who want to minimize their chances of divorce: You should date for three years before popping the question. Be wealthy, but don’t be a gold-digger. Have a huge wedding, but make sure it’s cheap. And whatever you do, don’t skip the honeymoon.

Here are the highlights, displayed with Olson’s visualizations and used here with his permission:

Time spent dating before proposal


Couples who dated for at least three years before their engagement were 39% less likely to get divorced than couples who dated less than a year before getting engaged.

Annual household income

Couples who make more than $125,000 a year (combined) cut their divorce risk in half.

Religious attendance


Same with regular churchgoers.

Do the partner’s wealth or looks matter?

Men are 50% more likely to end up divorced when they said their partner’s looks were important in their decision to get married, and women are 60% more likely to end up divorced when they cared about their partner’s wealth, compared to people who said they cared about neither.

Size of the wedding

Have a big wedding…

Cost of wedding

… but make sure it’s cheap. “The more you spend on your wedding,” Olson notes, “the more likely you’ll end up divorced.”

Went on a honeymoon?

Go ahead and take that trip to Bali. Honeymoons decrease the chances of divorce by 41%.

* * *

Part of the study echoes what we already know about marriage: That it’s increasingly for rich people—who make a lot and can afford honeymoons.

Dating for a while before tying the knot might indicate a level of planning that suggests the couple is in it for the long haul. Similarly, a well-attended ceremony might be a proxy for a large family that pressures and/or supports the couple and helps them stay together.

A strong marriage, in other words, is an intentional one.

But the other findings, like the fact that expensive rings and ceremonies don’t yield happier unions, are more surprising. Perhaps ill-matched couples use giant diamonds or flashy weddings to cover up the cracks in their emotional foundations. Or maybe couples that have modest rings and receptions feel that their boundless love is a celebration enough. Maybe this is all being thrown by some hidden Kardashian variable that none of us has uncovered yet.

Whatever the case, Francis and Mialon conclude that “our findings provide little evidence to support the validity of the wedding industry’s general message that connects expensive weddings with positive marital outcomes.” The average wedding now costs about $30,000, however, so this does not bode well.

Now, feel free to navigate to the upper left-hand corner of this page, click on the “print” button, and lay this article before the mascara-streaked face of the nearest Bridezilla.

This piece originally appeared on The Atlantic. More: 

Death and Mrs. Doubtfire
What if Black America were a country?
Can sex be just a little bit sinful?

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