Marriage at a young age found not to be a cause of divorce

a couple holding hands Dương Hữu, Unsplash

A new study from LSE challenges the popular belief that marrying young leads to divorce.

The research, published in the Review of Economics of the Household, is the first assessment which uses data from women who live outside the USA to study the causal relationship between marrying young and the risk of divorce.

The authors analysed the impact of a reform introduced in China in 1981, which lowered the age at which women in urban areas were able to marry from 25 to 20 years of age. Researchers were able to analyse the divorce rates between two comparable groups to assess the likelihood of divorce in similar couples who married at different ages – those who were able to marry from the age of 20 years, and those who may have married earlier but had to wait until they were 25 years old.

Previous research from the USA has demonstrated consistent findings of a negative association between the age at first marriage and the risk of divorce, which researchers have similarly observed in urban China. However, the study finds no evidence that the link is causal.

Dr Berkay Ozcan, Associate Professor in the LSE Department of Social Policy, said: 

“While popular opinion might suggest that marrying at a young age is a cause of divorce, we have found no empirical evidence that this is the case. Where the link between marrying young and the likelihood of divorce exists, we believe that the causes of both marriage at a young age and divorce lie elsewhere. As such, if the conditions for marriage are suitable, then we observe that beyond the age of 20 years old, age should not be a factor in the decision on whether to marry.”

Behind the article

The study, titled "Age at marriage and marital stability: evidence from China", by Garcia-Hombrados, J. and Özcan, B., is published in the Review of Economics of the Household (2023).

Read the paper here: