Is there a connection between spousal age gap & risk of divorce?

Americans have a somewhat complicated relationship with statistics. They are often cited as the way to definitively end an argument by bolstering someone’s assertions. Often, however, they become the argument, as people disagree on how statistics were collected and how they should properly be interpreted.

One of the biggest statistical “sins” that one can commit is to confuse correlation with causation. In other words, statistics can show that two or more things are related to one another, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that one causes the other. This is a common problem when it comes to statistical studies about relationships, marriage and divorce.

Last month, we reported on an Emory University study showing a correlation between an expensive engagement ring and a higher likelihood of divorce. According to that same study, there is also a correlation between the age gap between spouses and their likelihood of divorce.

Anecdotally, it seems that couples with a large age gap may be more likely to experience relationship troubles. But what about spouses who are just a few years apart? An analysis of the data suggests that compared with spouses who are the same age, a couple with a one-year age gap has a 3 percent higher risk of divorce. A five-year age gap is associated with an 18 percent higher risk, and a 30-year age gap supposedly makes a couple 172 percent more likely to get divorced.

The study does come with an important caveat, however. It seems that marriages are much less likely to end in divorce once the union has lasted five years or more. After five years, couples are reportedly 76 percent less likely to get divorced.

With any statistical study on relationships, we need to be careful about how much faith we place in the results. First, it is important to remember that correlation is not the same as causation. Moreover, statistical results are interesting, but they cannot necessarily serve as an accurate predictive model outcomes for any given couple.

Source: Atlanta Journal Constitution, “The bigger the age gap, the greater the risk of divorce,” Christine Slusser, Nov. 10, 2014

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