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A Deeper Look at the Emory University Study about "Divorce-Proofing" Your Marriage

DiPietro Law Group, PLLC

In our last post, our Virginia divorce attorneys examined a provocative study published by researchers at Emory University that sought to determine why certain couples get divorced. The study sparked a media sensation, prompting many journalists (including some who should have known better) to give advice about how to “divorce-proof” your marriage based on the analysis.

The researchers looked at over 3,000 divorces in the United States and beyond and found associations among different variables. For instance, people who had larger weddings were much less likely to get divorced than those who had much smaller weddings. Wealthier couples were less likely to get divorced than poorer couples. Those who waited to get engaged “divorce proofed” their marriages to an extent. And so on. Many journalists who reported on this study took license to dole out advice based on its implications.

Olga Khazan, writing for The Atlantic, said, “[These] findings offer some takeaways 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.”

The problem with this kind of analysis is that the researchers only looked at correlations. And correlations are only good for generating hypotheses, not for testing them. You might have heard the phrase “correlation does not imply causation.” What that means is that just because two things associated with one another does not mean they have anything to do with one another.

This website demonstrates this concept to hilarious effect.

What we really need to do is think about WHY these correlations might occur and then do experiments to test these ideas. For instance, what factors might distinguish couples who wait to get engaged from couples who tie the knot early? Perhaps the metric of “time before engagement” is really just a proxy for the couples’ wealth and education level. Knowing this distinction is important. If what really matters is wealth and education — and you attempt to lengthen the time before you get engaged without improving your wealth or education levels — you won’t actually change your likelihood of getting divorced!

Our analysis of this research notwithstanding, you probably want clear answers to questions about your separation.Contact our Northern Virginia divorce attorneys immediately at (888) 530-4374 for a confidential, thorough consultation about your strategic options.

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