Where Do People Meet Their Spouse?

A friend and I were guessing the percentage of people who met their spouse in school (high school, college, grad), work, or in some other social context. I figured a Google search would point the way to a broad study on the question: Where do people meet their spouse? Surprisingly, I came up empty. Anyone know of a study based upon a large data set instead of anecdotes?

My Googling did, however, reveal a few other data points about marriage. This page said the median age for marriage for American men is 27 and for women 25 — lower than I expected. I suspect higher socio-economic classes / higher educated folks marry later in life. Also learned that 40-50% of marriages end in divorce in the U.S. Again I suspect it’s lower among higher educated folks.

The issue that seems to be most hotly contested on marriage data sites is around cohabitation — whether premarital cohabitation affects the longevity and quality of a marriage. This study suggests that premarital cohabitation “has consistently been found to be associated with increased risk for divorce and marital distress in the United States.” Why? The inertia of living together causes a couple that would not otherwise marry to marry. Interesting and somewhat counterintuitive.

15 Responses to Where Do People Meet Their Spouse?

  1. Geoff Jones says:

    Love this message you get when you click on the “This study” link.

    The Session Cookie is set out of necessity and not out of convenience.

  2. Eric Wolf says:

    Majority of my friends that are engaged or in long term relationships met on facebook/myspace.

  3. Ben Casnocha says:

    Oops — fixed the link!

  4. Scott Young says:

    Correlation is not causation.

    I think an obvious answer about the cohabitation problem is simply this:

    People who live together before marriage are more likely to have values that consider divorce an acceptable way to end a failed marriage. Could it be that there are a lot of unhappy couples that got married before living together because it was the *moral* thing to do and truly believe in “to death till us part…”?

  5. Krishna says:

    Cohabitation first, if it works then consider marriage – puts human bonding through a process, a screening method, a first level filter. Human relationships hardly are amenable to processes as they will have to endure a lot more than that (commitment to common cause) in order to last.

    In that methodical pursuit, so long as the couples cohabit, they’re probably working towards a marriage. Once married, their resilience weaken (mission accomplished) and they are eventually working towards a breakup (next destination).

    In arranged marriages, the couple begin to explore each other after marriage and they don’t go by a manual, no working rules. By the time they *get to know* each other, they’re already 10 or 15 years into it, likely with a couple kids and then stick around!

  6. artifex says:

    “Co-habiting” is a form of marriage — childless marriage to be exact, which is why its sometimes called “common law” marriage. It’s ancient.

    So avoiding the ceremony is not avoiding the truth of it. :)

    The natural pitfalls, like when the intoxicating-love stage ends, or the arrival of the legendary seven-year-itch, will still apply. Some failing couples might hope that “making it official” with a social ceremony after years of unofficial marriage resets the relationship doomsday clock, but it doesn’t.

    They spend $xx,xxx dollars and return home to exactly the same life that they left. Then they break up in disillusionment.

    If they coincided the official ceremony with a life-changing event, like, say, the conception of a child, it would be more likely to succeed. That is also how it was done in ancient times.

  7. The real question with cohabitation->marriage is, why cohabiting people do marry, instead of continuing to live together.

    In this world, marriage means different things to different people, but the more you act married before marrying, the less marriage itself signifies in real practical terms. But the challenges are just as hard. So the maths start turning against you.

  8. Jose says:

    Met my wife on Spring Break 1999, got married in Fall 2001 – she was 24, I was 27. So according to your logic, we’re doomed! Damn it Ben, I was so looking forward to being married to her forever ‘cuz (that’s how we uneducated folk say “because”), you know, I love her and we get along…dare I say it, great. I guess her two “country” parents (both w/o college degrees), now married for 27 years, are destined for divorce too?

  9. Scott says:

    As for the age question, I remember a couple of years back reading an
    analysis on msnbc.com on average marriage ages and they found that there was
    a relationship between how far you lived from one of the coasts and the age
    you got married. The average age was lowest in the middle of the country
    (early twenties) and proceeded to get higher the closer you got to the coasts
    with it being in the early thirties.

  10. I’ll have to disagree with your assumption that with higher education level and higher income folk have lower levels of divorce, in fact I’ll bet you its the opposite.

    Marriage is largely about learning to love someone the way they are, accepting them even though you don’t like all parts of that. The longer you wait to get married, the more entrenched you become in your own habits: good, bad, or neutral. It becomes harder to change, harder to compromise, leading to more divorce.

    Plus I think higher socio-economic classes have a higher level of perceived entitlement, so instead of working through their problems, they say: “I deserve better” and move on.

  11. Ben Casnocha says:

    Good point on the perceived entitlement, Kyle. Sometimes this can be a good thing, sometimes a bad thing.

  12. Anonymous says:

    “Also learned that 40-50% of marriages end in divorce in the U.S. Again I suspect it’s lower among higher educated folks.”

    Why? Just curious what would lead you to that conclusion.

    In any case, divorce rate statistics are skewed because of “serial divorcees”.

    There was an interesting post about the topic earlier this year on the freakonomics blog.

    Apparently, 33.4 percent of first marriages ended before their 15th anniversary, which means that 7 to 17 percent that you’re quoting are people on their second, third or fourth divorce. Of course, there are couples who divorce after the kids move out, which would be roughly after 25 years of marriage at least.

    Still, there’s a difference between “a third of first marriages end in divorce”, vs. “Half of the people getting married today will get divorced”.

  13. Xoch says:

    “Also learned that 40-50% of marriages end in divorce in the U.S. Again I suspect it’s lower among higher educated folks.”

    Why? Just curious what would lead you to that conclusion.

    In any case, divorce rate statistics are skewed because of “serial divorcees”.

    There was an interesting post about the topic earlier this year on the freakonomics blog.

    Apparently, 33.4 percent of first marriages ended before their 15th anniversary, which means that 7 to 17 percent that you’re quoting are people on their second, third or fourth divorce. Of course, there are couples who divorce after the kids move out, which would be roughly after 25 years of marriage at least.

    Still, there’s a difference between “a third of first marriages end in divorce”, vs. “Half of the people getting married today will get divorced”.

  14. robert says:

    Ben,

    I don’t know about education, but Murray’s “The Bell Curve” has a page on the relationship between IQ and divorce.

    The higher IQ, the less divorce. I guess the IQ Dick and Liz style relationships portrayed in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” arent’ the norm. Surprized me, I thought high IQ people would find elaborate and interesting ways to screw up their relationships, but lower IQ ones might settle into a stupid happiness. Guess not!

  15. Christina B. says:

    Another interesting trend in marriages: More wealthy, college educated women are marrying less educated men with lower incomes.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/19/us/19marriage.html

    Any thoughts about the outcome of this trend?

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