Age at Marriage and Marital Instability: Revisiting the Becker-Landes-Michael Hypothesis

Evelyn Lehrer, University of Illinois at Chicago

An early age at first marriage is known to be associated with a high risk of divorce. Yet it has been suggested that beyond a certain point, the relationship between age at marriage and marital instability may become positive, if women settle for matches that are far from the optimal as the biological clock begins to tick. Analyses based on the 1995 and 2002-2003 National Surveys of Family Growth show that women who marry in their late twenties/early thirties are indeed more likely to settle for poorer matches. The 1995 data reveal that the stabilizing effect associated with the greater maturity that comes with age is more powerful, and marital instability decreases steadily as age at marriage rises. This is not the case in the more recent period, where a U-shaped pattern is found: marriages contracted during the thirties are more unstable than those contracted in the late twenties.

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Presented in Session 62: Union Dissolution