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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The risk of first and second marriage dissolution


Most Canadians marry once and only once, and less than 1% walk down the aisle more than twice, according to a new study.

The free online article "Till death do us part? The risk of first and second marriage dissolution", is available today, in Canadian Social Trends. The article analyzes data from a snapshot of married life conducted by the General Social Survey (GSS) in 2001, as well as risk factors affecting the success or failure of a marriage.

The study found that several factors were associated with the risk of a breakdown in the first and subsequent marriages — and at least three were common to both.

These were the age of the bride and groom, the length of the marriage itself and the strength of an individual's commitment to the institution. In fact, this commitment to marriage as a source of happiness was a key factor associated with marital collapse, the study concluded.

In the case of a first marriage, people who believed that marriage was not very important if they were to be happy ran a risk of failure that was three times as high as that among people who deemed it very important.

In the case of subsequent marriages, this risk of failure was also nearly three times higher among people who felt marriage was not very important for their happiness.

In fact, Canadians who had taken their vows more than twice were significantly less likely to report to the GSS that being married was either important or very important to their happiness.

GSS data showed that just over 16.6 million people aged 25 and over had been legally married at some point in their life in 2001.

Of this group, 89%, or nearly 14.8 million people, were married once, while about 10% or 1.7 million had married twice. On the other hand, roughly 137,000, less than 1%, had tied the knot more than twice, virtually all of them three times.

High risk for teens, those married during the 1990s

Someone marrying for the first time in their teens faced a risk of a marital breakdown that was almost two times higher than that of a person who married between the ages of 25 and 29, the study found.

In contrast, people who waited until their mid-30s or later to marry ran a risk 43% lower.

In the case of a second marriage, Canadians who were in their 40s when they remarried faced only half as great a risk of marital dissolution than those who were under 30. Even those who remarried in their 30s had a 27% lower risk of breaking up.

In addition, the longer a couple had been married, the greater their chances of staying together in both first and subsequent marriages.

For example, someone who first married in the 1960s had a 13% lower risk of having a marital break-up than someone married in the 1970s. However, the risk of a break-up jumped to 67% higher among people married in the 1990s.

In a second marriage, the odds of a break-up were even higher. People who remarried during the 1980s had a 43% higher risk of breaking up than those who remarried in the 1970s.

But those who remarried during the 1990s were 2.5 times more likely to break up than people who remarried in the 1970s.

Two-thirds of people still with their first spouse in 2001

At the time the survey was done, over two-thirds of the 16.6 million people who had married at some point in their life were still with their first spouse. They had been married for an average of 23.5 years.

But for 23%, their first marriage had ended in dissolution following about 11 years of matrimony. For the remaining 9%, their first marriage had ended in their spouse's death after 34 years together.

About 43% of adults whose first marriage had ended in divorce had remarried at the time of the survey, as had about 16% of those whose first spouse had died.

Canadians who married a second time were about 39 years old on average at the time of their wedding.

The June 2006 issue of Canadian Social Trends also includes the article "Learning disabilities and child altruism, anxiety, and aggression," which examines the levels of altruism or prosocial behaviour, anxiety or emotional disorder, and physical aggression or conduct disorder of children aged 8 to 11.

As this is only our second release of the new electronic format, we would like to remind you that the new Canadian Social Trends will be published electronically every six weeks, eight times a year, with two feature articles per issue available in both PDF and HTML formats. The Social Indicators have been expanded with more detailed data covering longer time periods, and they will be updated as new data become available.

Definitions, data sources and methods: survey number 4501.

The June 2006 issue of Canadian Social Trends (11-008-XWE, free) is now available online.

The Summer 2006 issue of Canadian Social Trends, no. 81 (11-008-XIE, free), which contains the two new articles released today as well as the two articles that were released on May 2, 2006, is now available online from the Our products and Services page of our website. A printed version (11-008-XPE, $12/$39) is also available.

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Client Services and Dissemination (613-951-5979;, Social and Aboriginal Statistics Division.

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Date Modified: 2006-06-28 Important Notices