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Sunday, March 5, 2017

Second marriages

I read an article pointing out that second marriages are more likely to end in divorce than first marriages. The presentation seemed puzzling to me, because it doesn't quite account for one crucial fact.

If you are already divorced, then your second marriage is automatically less likely to end in divorce than your first.  In other words, the idea of a second marriage only arises for someone whose first has already ended. If the first ended in divorce (not death of the spouse), then the second marriage by definition has a better than zero chance of not ending that way.  So instead of thinking you have a 60% chance of divorcing, vs. a 50% for a first marriage, the person marrying a second time might compare that 60% to the 100% certainty that their first marriage has already ended.

What the story didn't account for, then, was that people still married happily to their first spouse were not the ones contemplating marrying again.


6 comments:

Thomas said...

I'm sure you don't need a lesson in probabilities. But if I roll a die and it comes up 3 there was a 1 in 6 chance of that happening. If I now roll a second one, it too has a 1 in 6 chance of coming up 3. But the probability of the first one coming up three isn't now 6 in 6 (or 100%).

I don't know whether the article is right, but it's only saying that a certain proportion first marriages end in divorce. And a certain proportion of second marriages do too. The second (apparently) is higher than the first.

Jonathan said...

Yes, I know all that. But my point is a rather different one. The person who wins the bet the first time (i.e. stays married to the first spouse) doesn't even roll the dice a second time! So this person isn't thinking of the second marriage as a bet with lower odds. The article also says third marriages are even less likely to succeed. Even if this is true, if your goal is to be married you will marry.

Jonathan said...

Put another way, about 40% of the divorced people can expect to stay married the second time. That is huge, because 50% of people are still married to first spouse. So that brings the total up into a 90ish range. (Of the subset of people who see being married as the goal.). The negative spin to the article doesn't really seem to capture that fact very well.

Thomas said...

Ah, interesting. Yes, if the goal is to be (and I suppose remain) married, you've got something there. But I think a lot of people who have been married once are not as worried about not being married as they are about going through another divorce. You're looking at the success rate (and take "being married" as a kind of success). But the figure you're citing is taken by many people as a failure rate.

Thomas said...

PS. I don't think the total in 90%. Even if everyone who got divorced remarried we're talking about 40% of the 50% who got divorced, which is 20% of the people who got married the first time. So it's 70% at best.

Jonathan said...

You are right. The divorce lawyer who wrote the article is seeing the divorces, not the successful marriages. I just wanted to point out that another way of looking at the same facts yields a different perspective.