You are on page 1of 11

Late Marriage and Marital Instability: The Effects of Heterogeneity and Inflexibility

Author(s): Robert G. Bitter


Source: Journal of Marriage and Family, Vol. 48, No. 3 (Aug., 1986), pp. 631-640
Published by: National Council on Family Relations
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/352049 .
Accessed: 17/01/2015 15:36
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .
http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp

.
JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of
content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms
of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

National Council on Family Relations is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to
Journal of Marriage and Family.

http://www.jstor.org

This content downloaded from 128.235.251.160 on Sat, 17 Jan 2015 15:36:53 PM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Late Marriageand Marital Instability:


The Effects of Heterogeneity and
Inflexibility
ROBERT G. BITTER
Dutch Mail, Telegraph, and Telephone Company (PTT)
Using interview data from a national sample of marriedpersons, this study investigates the
effects of late marriage on marital instability. An index measuring a wide range of activities
related to divorce and separation is used to indicate the degree of instability. Persons married later in life werefound to be more heterogeneous in their choice of mate. When this
heterogeneity is controlled, the relationship between age at first marriage and instability is
negative and linear. No support was found for the hypothesis that late marriage may be
associated with marital instability because such spouses are "too set in their ways. "

The relationship between age at first marriage and


marital instability is one of the most firmly established empirical findings in family sociology. The
negative effects of early marriage on marital
stability are well documented by a large number
of studies over a considerable period of time
(Monahan, 1953; Burchinal, 1965; Glick and Norton, 1971; Palmer, 1971; Bumpass and Sweet,
1972; Weed, 1974; Schoen, 1975; Lee, 1977;
Booth and Edwards, 1984; Glenn and Supancic,
1984).
Yet, age at first marriage and the probability of
divorce are not simply inversely related. Not only
marrying young, but also marrying at a much
later than the average age increases the chance of
marital dissolution through divorce or separation
(Bauman, 1967; Glick and Norton, 1971; Booth
The data for this studycome froma researchprojecton

divorce, under the direction of Alan Booth, John N.


Edwards, David R. Johnson, and Lynn K. White,
University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The study was supported in part by Grant No. 10-P98044-5 from the
Social Security Administration and Grant No. 2-R01AG04146 from the National Institute on Aging. I would
like to express my gratitude to David B. Brinkerhoff,
David R. Johnson, J. Allen Williams, Hugh P. Whitt,
Alan Booth, and Lynn K. White of the University of
Nebraska-Lincoln for their comments and help.
Nijmeegsebaan 124, 6564 CL H. Landstichting, The
Netherlands.

and Edwards, 1984). However, whereas youthful


marriages have been seen as problematic and have
been studied extensively, the marital failure rates
among persons marrying at a later age have received little attention. Moreover, the research on
early marriage has been unable to account for
much of the instability of these marriages and
seems of little help in understanding the divorceproneness of late marriages. The explanations
suggested in the literature have a speculative
character and are in need of empirical investigation.
The approach of most previous research has
been to use social correlates of divorce in order to
explain the relationship between age at first marriage and marital failure rates. A long list of
proven correlates is available to be introduced as a
series of variables antecedent to both age at marriage and divorce. Among them are education,
premarital conception, premarital birth, length of
courtship, and residential area, religion, and
social class at time of marriage. These variables,
which suggest the spuriousness of the relationship
between age at first marriage and divorce, have
proven to be useful control variables, but they
have been unable to "explain away" the effects of
the age factor. Thus, the results of the previous
research, most of which has focused on the failure
rates of early marriages, do not encourage a
similar approach for this investigation of the

Journal of Marriage and the Family 48 (August 1986): 631-640

This content downloaded from 128.235.251.160 on Sat, 17 Jan 2015 15:36:53 PM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

631

632

JOURNAL OF MARRIAGE AND THE FAMILY

marital failure rates of those who married at a


later age.
The tentative character of the sociological
research on the subject contrasts sharply with the
firmness of the common-sense explanations. Except for social scientists, people "know" that
early marriages are unstable because of the
couples' immaturity. And those who marry later
in life are "too set in their ways" to make their
bond last.
Although the common-sense explanation concerning the instability of late marriages has a certain appeal, it seems to substitute the original
question for a new one: Why do these people
become too set in their ways? Why do they marry
late? Bernard (1982: 164) suggests that marriage
may have less appeal to those who marry late or
that they are unable to find a mate earlier in life
because their expectations about their future
spouse are too high. One could also make a more
drastic suggestion and assume that for many who
have married late the postponement of marriage
was involuntary; it could be that they were simply
unwanted. If the mate-selection system filters out
individuals unsuitable for marriage, maybe the
late marriages involve a disproportionate number
of the least desirable partners, the "leftovers,"
who desperately took their chances. Thus,
psychological deficiencies could be a reason for
both the postponement of marriage and the subsequent instability. If such is the case, the relationship between late age at marriage and marital instability is spurious. While provocative, such
speculations are obviously very hard to test.
Instead of focusing on the psychological makeup of the individual brides and grooms, it is also
possible to take a sociological stance and to look
at a structural variable affecting mate selection.
If, for whatever reason, people marry late, they
are confronted with a decreased number of potential mates. While the absolute number may still be
very considerable, what is important from a sociological point of view is the decreased number of
potential mates within the socially most approved
field of eligibles. This suggests that those who
marry late are more likely to marry outside the
group of socially most approved partners. In
general this will mean that they marry people who
are, sociologically speaking, less like themselves.
Thus, late marriages can be expected to be less
homogeneous than those of persons who marry at
a "normal" age in such respects as social class,
religious background, race, age, education, and
previous marital status of the spouses. Since
homogeneity with respect to religious affiliation
(Christensen and Barber, 1967; Bumpass and
Sweet, 1972), race (Heer, 1974), age (Bumpass

and Sweet, 1972), education, and social class


(Scanzoni, 1968) is shown to have a positive effect
on marital stability (cf. Lewis and Spanier, 1979),
it can be hypothesized that the structurally induced heterogeneity of late marriages provides for
at least a partial explanation of their instability.
This research focuses on heterogeneity as an intervening variable to explain the positive relation
between age at first marriage and consequent instability for those who marry late. Although the
orientation is sociological rather than psychological, the approach still offers an opportunity for a
limited test of the "too set in their ways"
hypothesis. If mental inflexibility characterizes
this particular group of brides and grooms, then
heterogeneity should be more of a problem to
them than to those who marry earlier. In other
words, those who marry late are not only most
likely to be heterogeneous in the choice of their
partners, but they are also most likely to suffer
negative consequences from this difference in
social background. Statistically speaking, there
should be an interactive effect between age and
heterogeneity in their effect on marital instability.
A PHENOMENOLOGICAL APPROACH TO
MARRIAGE, HETEROGENEITY, AND AGE
Why exactly is heterogeneity conducive to instability? Berger and Kellner (1980) provide a
sophisticated explanation within a phenomenological frame of reference. Marriage, they argue,
is "a crucial nomic instrumentality in our society"
(1980: 394). That is, marriage is one of the most
important social arrangements "that creates for
the individual the sort of order in which he can experience his life as making sense" (1980: 392).
This protection against anomie is obtained by
creating a minicosmos in the private sphere that
society has set apart for such undertakings. This
minicosmos, an almost private construction of
reality, entails both a particular worldview and
self-definition of the partners. Because this minicosmos cannot be a mere syncretism of the
formerly held definitions of self and reality, marriage is a dramatic act that involves the reconstruction of reality: both the world and the self
become redefined.
Although this process of reality construction
and redefinition is typically unapprehended, it is
very far reaching, as Berger and Kellner observe
(1980: 401):
The two distinct biographies, as subjectively apprehended by the two individuals who lived
through them, are overruled and re-interpreted
in the course of their conversation....
The
couple thus constructs not only present reality

This content downloaded from 128.235.251.160 on Sat, 17 Jan 2015 15:36:53 PM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

LATE MARRIAGE AND MARITAL INSTABILITY


but reconstructspastrealityas well, fabricatinga
common memory that integratesthe recollections of the two individualpasts.
In a similar fashion the future horizons of both
partners become more and more unified.
Berger and Kellner note that if the marriage
partners are of roughly the same age, the task of
reconstructing their biographies in terms of a cohesive and mutually correlated memory is greatly
facilitated. In general, corresponding social characteristics will often result in corresponding
definitions of social reality and of self, and they
will therefore facilitate a smooth integration of
these definitions in case of marriage. With respect
to age one could make the additional point that
the absolute age as well as the relative age of the
partners is of importance here. Not only have
older partners "more" to reconstruct, but more
important, their respective memories may also
have been more "objectivated" by having firm
roots in the conversational circles of which each
partner was a part. Like all social constructions of
reality, the newly constructed nomos depends for
its sense of objectivity on a surplus of conversations with significant others that support its objective validity over those that deny it. Those who
have a well-established "bachelor reality" can be
expected to have more significant others supporting their bachelor world construction. Therefore,
they may well have more difficulty in reconstructing their nomos and successfully creating a "truly
objective" married reality. Especially if the conversational circles that both spouses maintained
while still single do not overlap-in other words,
if the spouses are heterogeneous-the creation of
a common and cohesive reality may be very difficult indeed. For these reasons, heterogeneity and
older age in general and the combination of the
two in particular can be expected to hamper the
creation of a stable marriage.
HYPOTHESES
From the above it appears that heterogeneity
can be expected to influence marital instability
and that this variable may be of particular interest
in understanding the dyadic instability of those
who marry well beyond the median age at first
marriage.
The following statements, then, serve as
hypotheses for this research:
1. The relationship between age at first marriage and marital instability is curvilinear
and U-shaped.
2. For later marriages, age at first marriage is
positively related to heterogeneity.
3. Heterogeneity is positively related to marital
instability.

633

4. When heterogeneity is controlled, the relationship between age at first marriage and
marital instability is negative and linear.
5. The higher the age at first marriage, the
greater the effect of heterogeneity on marital
instability.
DATA AND PROCEDURES
Data for this study come from a national probability sample of married persons under 55 years
of age. The data were originally gathered to assess
the effects of female labor-force participation on
marital stability. All interviews were done by telephone; a random digit dialing procedure was used
to locate households with eligible respondents.
The response rate among eligible households was
65%.
The sample characteristics were compared by
the original researchers with the estimates of the
U.S. Census and the sample was found to be highly representative of young and middle-aged married people within the continental United States
with respect to age, race, household size, presence
of children, region, and female labor-force participation (Booth, Johnson, and White, 1981). To
control for the possible bias resulting from the
usual overrepresentation of women and more
highly educated persons, sex and education were
introduced as control variables. Since the effect of
age at first marriage can be expected to decrease
with duration of the marriage, the exclusion of
married persons over 55 years of age does not
seem to be a problem either.
In studies of marital instability, both the inclusion and the exclusion of divorced people from
the sample can introduce methodological problems. Inclusion poses the problem of retrospective
data, whereas exclusion may cause bias and
underestimation. In this research the explanatory
analysis excludes divorced people and is based on
a sample of spouses in their first marriage, consisting of 691 men and 1,018 women. The expected underestimation of effects and possible
bias resulting from the attrition of divorced
couples is assessed by comparing the subsample of
persons in their first marriage to the total sample
of currently married persons (814 men and 1,213
women).
Dependent Variable
In the literature on the effects of the timing of
marriage, either dissolution by the spouses
(through divorce or separation) or marital satisfaction is treated as the dependent variable. However, methodological and theoretical problems are
associated with both of these variables. If divorce
or separation is taken as the dependent variable,

This content downloaded from 128.235.251.160 on Sat, 17 Jan 2015 15:36:53 PM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

634

JOURNAL OF MARRIAGE AND THE FAMILY

the focus is in fact on the consequence of instability rather than on instability itself. Moreover, in
such cases the data source almost always prevents
the inclusion in the analysis of characteristics such
as social class, race, religion, or premarital pregnancy as control variables. On the other hand,
treating marital satisfaction as the dependent variable introduces conceptual confusion. Research
has shown that many dissatisfying marriages remain intact because of religious commitments or
unemployment and also that high satisfaction
does not always preclude voluntary dissolution
(Landis, 1963; Booth and White, 1980). In other
words, the contingencies associated with marital
satisfaction and stability may well be very different.
A marital instability index has been developed
by Booth, Johnson, and Edwards (1983) to
remedy these problems. In this scale, marital instability is treated as the propensity to divorce,
which includes both a cognitive state (thinking the
marriage is in trouble and considering the idea of
getting a divorce) and actions related to these
thoughts. The scale is based on the following
items:
1. Have you ever thought your marriage
might be in trouble?
2. Have you ever talked with family members
or friends about problems in your marriage?
3. As far as you know, has your spouse talked
with relatives or friends about problems
either of you were having with your marriage?
4. As far as you know, has your spouse ever
thought your marriage was in trouble?
5. Has the thought of getting a divorce or
separation crossed your mind?
6. As far as you know, has the thought of getting a divorce or separation crossed your
spouse's mind?
7. Have you or your spouse ever seriously suggested the idea of divorce?
8. Have you talked about the problems of living apart?
9. Have you talked about consulting an attorney?
10. Have you talked about filing?
11. Have you or your spouse filed a divorce or
separation petition?
12. Have you discussed a divorce or separation
with members of your family?
13. Have you discussed a divorce or separation
with a close friend?
14. Have you ever left home because of marital
problems-either for a short time or as a
trial separation?

With respect to all these items, respondents were


asked whether they had such thoughts or had engaged in such activity ever, within the last three
years, or currently. Responses were combined into
a scale ranging from 0 to 68, the higher number
indicating greater instability. The total scale
reliability was .91.
Intervening Variable
Marriage partners can be heterogeneous with
respect to their psychological, physical, and social
characteristics. The role of psychological heterogeneity in the mate-selection process has been hotly debated and is therefore less suitable for a test
of the hypotheses at hand. Data that would indicate the spouses' physical heterogeneity with
regard to attractiveness, height, and weight were
unfortunately not available.
This research, then, measures heterogeneity by
comparing the respondent and the spouse with
respect to social class of parents, years of education, previous marital status, age, and religious
affiliation at the time of dating. Since over 99%0
of all marriages in the United States are intraracial
(Reiss, 1980: 333), even a large data set does not
include enough interracial marriages for meaningful analysis, and race was therefore excluded as
a measure of heterogeneity.
Control Variables
Social class of parents, social class of spouses,
length of marriage (and its polynomial term),
social-desirability response tendency, religion,
race, length of courtship (and its polynomial
term), education of respondent, and cohabitation
prior to marriage were used as control variables.
The data on living arrangements prior to marriage
consist only of whether the spouses had lived
together before marriage; the absence of information on the duration of the cohabitation precluded
the introduction of an adjusted age-at-firstmarriage score for those who had been living
together.
Independent Variable
The independent variable is the age of respondent at first marriage.
Methods of Analysis
This research employs both multiple regression
analysis and zero-order correlation techniques.
Zero-order correlations are computed to assess
whether heterogeneity increases with age at first
marriage and also to test the hypothesis that
heterogeneity is positively related to marital instability. For the general analysis of heterogeneity
as an intervening variable, multiple regression is

This content downloaded from 128.235.251.160 on Sat, 17 Jan 2015 15:36:53 PM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

635

LATE MARRIAGE AND MARITAL INSTABILITY


FIG.

1. THE EFFECTS OF HETEROGENEITY ON MARITAL INSTABILITY BY AGE AT FIRST MARRIAGE

(a)

(b)

d*m-

4-

()

(0

Age
Y=a+bl x+b2x2

Age

y=a+b

x+b2x2

(c)

4-

(d)

4-.

0m-

(0
V)

.C

Age
ya+bl x+b2x2
used. This technique is suitable for the examination of curvilinear relationships and allows for the
simultaneous introduction of many control variables. In addition, this method permits the treatment of age at first marriage as a continuous variable, thus eliminating the need for an arbitrary
categorization.1
The test of the main hypothesis of this research
occurs as follows. The relationship between age at
marriage and marital instability is expected to
look like the curve in Figure la. If heterogeneity

Age
y=a+bx
accounts as much for the instability of early marriages as it does for the instability of late marriages, the introduction of heterogeneity into the
regression equation will not change the shape of
the curve depicting the relationship (Fig. lb).
However, if heterogeneity is helpful in explaining
the instability of late marriages but not of the
early ones, statistical control for heterogeneity
will "flatten" the curve (Fig. lc), possibly to the
extent that it becomes a straight line (Fig. ld). As
the equations for these curves show, this means

This content downloaded from 128.235.251.160 on Sat, 17 Jan 2015 15:36:53 PM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

636

JOURNAL OF MARRIAGE AND THE FAMILY

that the magnitude and the statistical significance


of the coefficient of the last term (b2) are crucial
for the test. The last term, the polynomial, consists of all the squared values of age at first marriage. This term indicates the departure from linearity-here, the degree to which the regression
line is U-shaped. In figure Id the nonlinearity is
insignificant and the polynomial is therefore
dropped from the equation.
Finally, the hypothesis that those who marry at
a later age will find it more difficult to deal with
heterogeneity because of their noncognitive inTABLE

flexibility is evaluated by introducing multiplicative interaction terms into the regression equation.
FINDINGS
Tables 1 and 2 compare those variables associated with previous divorce in the total sample of
married people with the predictors of marital instability in the subsample of persons in their first
marriage. Because the total sample consists of
married people only, the variables in the first
equation do not simply predict divorce but divorce and subsequent remarriage. Thus they also

1. VARIABLES ASSOCIATED WITH PREVIOUS DIVORCE IN A SAMPLE OF CURRENTLY MARRIED PEOPLE

Regression
Coefficient

Variablea
Sex of respondent (m = 1, f = 2)
Length of marriage
Polynomial
Religion
None (omitted category)
Protestants
Catholics
Jews
Other
Age at first marriage
Polynomial
(Constant)

Beta

Standard
Error of b

-.060***
-.020
.0003**
**

-.082
-.515
.239

.016
.003
.000

.049
.003
.120*
-.025
-.156
.003***
3.407

.068
.004
.053
-.016
-1.492
1.240

.030
.031
.054
.041
.018
.000

R2 = .167; N = 2,012
aNot significant: Race, social-desirability response tendency, social class of respondent, education of respondent,
social class of respondents' parents, and interactions between sex and race, religion, education, social-desirability
response tendency, length of marriage, age at first marriage, and the polynomial term of age at first marriage.
*p < .05. **p < .01. ***p < .001.
TABLE
2. VARIABLES ASSOCIATED WITH MARITAL INSTABILITY IN A SAMPLE OF PEOPLE IN THEIR FIRST INTACT MARRIAGE (HETEROGENEITY VARIABLES EXCLUDED)

Variablea
Cohabited? (y = 1, n = 2)
Length of courtship (months)
Polynomial
Social-desirability response tendency
Length of marriage (years)
Polynomial
Race
Caucasian (omitted category)
Hispanics
Blacks
Others
Age at first marriage
Polynomial
(Constant)

Regression
Coefficient

Beta

Standard
Error of b

-3.315***
-.117
.001**
-1.062***
.226
-.010***

-.107
-.211
.203
-.110
.207
-.293

.794
.039
.001
.236
.097
003

.003
.064
-.041
-.523
.447

1.096
1.112
1.771
.615
.013

.133
2.949**
-3.030
-1.554
.028*
35.667

R2 = .058; N= 1,659
Note: The polynomial term of age at first marriage and the variable "sex of respondent," both significant by
themselves, share variance to such an extent that neither one is significant if the other variable is included in the
regression. On theoretical grounds, sex of respondent was excluded from the regression.
aNot significant: Social class of spouses and social class of spouses' parents.
*p < .05. **p < .01. ***p < .001.

This content downloaded from 128.235.251.160 on Sat, 17 Jan 2015 15:36:53 PM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

637

LATE MARRIAGE AND MARITAL INSTABILITY


reflect differences in remarriage rates and differences in the length of the interval between
divorce and remarriage.
The equations are different in four respects.
First, not all information about the subsample
was also available for the total sample. The
regression in Table 2 therefore gives a more complete picture; it should not be concluded from the
absence of the variables on cohabitation and
length of courtship from Table 1 that these variables are insignificant for the total sample. Second, whereas religion contributes slightly to the
divorce variable but not the the instability score,
the reverse is true for race. Third, a comparison of
the two equations shows that the instability index
suffers from the expected underrepresentation of
recently married but unstable couples. Finally,
and most important, the attrition of unstable
couples through divorce clearly affected the
strength of the relation between the dependent
and the independent variable.
The comparison indicates also that the use of
the instability index as a dependent variable does
not cause major problems or serious biases. Although both the magnitude and the significance
of the terms measuring the effects of age at first
marriage seem greatly underestimated by the instability index, it does not preclude a test of the
proposed hypotheses. Both regression equations,
although neither one is a perfect measure of the
relationship, indicate that there is a curvilinear
relation between age at first marriage and marital
instability and that the strength of the relation is
considerable.
Looking at the control variables of Tables 1 and
2, we note that some variables that the literature
suggested would be important, such as social
class, are insignificant in this equation.2 Also of
interest is the variable that measures the length of
the dating period. Length of courtship has a
curvilinear relation with age at first marriage.
Late marriages are in general not characterized by
substantially longer dating periods. Further data
indicate both a lower mean and a higher standard
deviation with regard to length of courtship for
the group with late marriages. Thus, this group
appears to consist of some persons whose late
marriage was a result of a long dating period and
others who married very quickly.
The zero-order correlations of heterogeneity
with age at first marriage and marital instability
are presented in Table 3. With two exceptions,
these findings provide support for the hypotheses
that positive relations exists between heterogeneity in social background of spouses and both age at
first marriage and marital instability. One of the
exceptions is heterogeneity with respect to

denominational affiliation. While this variable is


positively related to marital instability, religious
heterogeneity does not increase with age at first
marriage.
TABLE 3. HETEROGENEITY,AGEAT FIRSTMARRIAGE,
AND MARITAL INSTABILITY

Heterogeneity in:
Age (in years)
Religious affiliation
when dating
Previous marital
status
Years of education

Social class of
parents

Age at First
Marriage
.154
p=.000
(1,723)
-.014
p = .280
(1,720)
.176
p = .000
(1,725)
.124
p=.000
(1,722)
.105
p= .000
(1,372)

Marital
Instability
.060
p =.000
(1,716)
.067
p = .003
(1,713)
.124
p= .000
(1,717)
.021
p =.195
(1,714)
.056
p = .019
(1,372)

Heterogeneity with respect to years of education shows a reverse pattern: here the relationship
with age at marriage follows the prediction, but
there is no significant impact of dissimilar education on marital instability. However, if the direction of the heterogeneity is taken into accountthat is, if a distinction is made between the cases
in which the husband and those in which the wife
has more education, a very different picture
emerges. Such a dichotomy of the variable measuring educational differences is presented in
Table 4, in which all cases are represented by
either the value of the difference in years of
education if the category is appropriate or by a 0
in case the category does not apply.
TABLE 4. DIFFERENCES IN EDUCATION, AGE AT FIRST
MARRIAGE, AND MARITAL INSTABILITY

Difference in Years
of Education
Husband superior

Wife superior

Age at First
Marriage
.071
p=.002
(1,722)

Marital
Instability
-.033
p = .085
(1,714)

.086
p=.000

.083
p =.002

(1,722)

(1,714)

These statistics indicate that differences in


education do have an important effect on marital
instability, but both the size and the direction of
the effect depends on whether it is the husband or
the wife who has more years of education (cf.
Palmer, 1971; Elder and Rockwell, 1976). By not

This content downloaded from 128.235.251.160 on Sat, 17 Jan 2015 15:36:53 PM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

JOURNAL OF MARRIAGE AND THE FAMILY

638

TABLE

5. VARIABLES PREDICTING MARITAL INSTABILITY (HETEROGENEITY VARIABLES EXCLUDED)

Beta

Standard
Error of b

-2.624**
-.093
.001*
.250
-.011***
-1.120***
*

-.085
-.170
.176
.228
-.311
-.116

.799
.039
.001
.097
.003
.235

-.037
2.250*
-2.936
-1.315
.021

-.001
.049
-.040
-.443
.337

1.088
1.111
1.762
.617
.013

.051
.075
.042
.083
R2 = .007; N = 1,659

.100
1.042
.532
.207

Regression
Coefficient

Variable
Cohabited? (y = 1, n = 2)
Length of courtship (months)
Polynomial
Length of marriage (years)
Polynomial
Social-desirability response tendency
Race
Caucasian (omitted category)
Hispanics
Blacks
Others
Age at first marriage
Polynomial
Heterogeneity
Age (in years)
Previous marital status
Social class parents
Wife superior education

.199*
3.052**
.934
.710***

*p < .05. **p < .01. ***p < .001.

distinguishing between these different cases, the


opposite effects cancel each other out.
In Table 5 the heterogeneity variables are entered in the regression equation that is presented
in Table 2. Separate regression analyses were
undertaken to assess the effect of each of the measures of heterogeneity on the relation between age
at first marriage and marital instability. As expected from the results of the zero-order computations, control for heterogeneity of denominational affiliation during courtship did not significantly alter the effects of age at marriage. It was
therefore omitted from the equation.
Heterogeneity with respect to social class of
parents did not quite reach statistical significance.
In part this could be due to the fact that the measure of social class included several indicators on
both spouses' parents, resulting in many cases
with missing values. Because this measure of
heterogeneity behaved as predicted and was close
to significance, it was also included in the equation.3
In general, a comparison of the full and the
reduced regression model, as presented in Tables 2
and 5, shows that the intervening variables behave
as predicted and reduce the polynomial term of
the age-at-first-marriage variable to insignificance. This means that, when various aspects of
heterogeneity are controlled, the relationship between age at first marriage and marital instability
is linear. The support for Hypothesis 4 is also indicated by a comparison of the betas and their significance levels from regressions that do not include the polynomial term of age at first marriage.

In a regression that excludes the heterogeneity


variables, the beta for age at first marriage is
-.079 (p < .01). Introduction of the heterogeneity
variables increases the slope: the beta becomes
-.109 (p < .001) and the R2 increases from .055 to
.075.
The last hypothesis predicts that those who
marry later in life are not only likely to choose a
less homogeneous spouse, they are also likely to
have more problems in dealing with the differences in their backgrounds. To test this
hypothesis, multiplicative interaction terms were
added to the regression equation in Table 5. None
of the interaction terms are significant by themselves, nor is the total increment in explained
variance due to these interaction terms significant.
Introduction of the religious heterogeneity variable and its interaction term does not change this
result. Thus, there is no empirical support for the
hypothesis that higher age at first marriage increases the negative impact of heterogeneity and
marital instability.
A final note on the level of explained variance:
The independent variables included in this
research explain only very little of the variance in
the dependent variable. There seem to be two
reasons for this. First, marital instability results
from many causes, none of which by itself explains a large part of the variance. Second, the
concern of this research is not with explaining
marital instability per se, but only with one of its
correlates, age at first marriage. No attempt is
made to analyze why early marriages are highly
unstable. Instead the focus has been limited to

This content downloaded from 128.235.251.160 on Sat, 17 Jan 2015 15:36:53 PM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

LATE MARRIAGE AND MARITAL INSTABILITY


late marriage. The intervening variables were expected to have an effect only on a small proportion of the population. Thus, even if these variables had explained all of the instability for later
marriages, their effects on the overall level of explained variance would have been limited. The explained variance, therefore, cannot be taken as an
indicator of the reliability of the presented empirical test.
DISCUSSION
The empirical findings of this research support
the contention that the "marriage squeeze"-that
is, the scarcity of homogeneous companions-increases heterogeneity and thereby instability
among those who marry later in life. Of all the indicators of heterogeneity, only different religious
affiliation during courtship was not positively
related to age at first marriage. Religion, it seems,
plays a very important role in many nomos-building enterprises (such as marriage), but it is possible that often it does not fulfill this function until
somewhat later in life. Religious affiliation, therefore, could be more salient for those in their late
twenties and early thirties than for those in their
late teens (cf. Adams, 1979). If this is correct, religious differences are more likely to form a serious
obstacle for older dating couples than for younger
ones. The increased desire for religious homogeneity probably offsets the effects of the marriage squeeze in this respect.
Another intriguing finding regarding heterogeneity concerns education. Educational heterogeneity is conducive to instability only if it is the
wife who has more years of schooling. This finding suggests that traditionalism could play an important role in the stability of families and that
stability may sometimes be based on the wife's acceptance of a submissive role within marriage.
However, it is also possible that the negative impact of the husband's education on the socioeconomic status of the couple causes instability in
these cases.
A comparison of the various indicators suggests
that heterogeneity with respect to previous marital
status has the strongest effect on marital instability. Yet, this variable could be composed of two
separate effects. While none of the respondents in
the sample had been married before, the instability index also takes into account the instability of
their spouses as perceived by the respondents. In
case of heterogeneity with respect to previous
marital status, the spouses had been either divorced or widowed. The variable measuring the
effects of a difference between both spouses in
marital history, therefore, is likely to reflect also

639

the higher instability that in general characterizes


the previously divorced.
The empirical evidence does not support the
idea that prolonged periods of singleness produce
a noncognitive inflexibility leading to marital instability. Thus, considerable doubt is cast upon
the popular hypothesis that those who marry late
are "too set in their ways" to make their marriage
work.
The fact that the instability of late marriages is
due more to the couples' heterogeneity than to the
individuals' mental inflexibility indicates that the
increasingly popular trend to postpone marriage
until somewhat later in life should not necessarily
result in an increased divorce rate. Because
heterogeneity in mate selection is understood as a
result of an increased scarcity of homogeneous
companions, a general increase in the age at first
marriage will result in a different pace at which
the field of eligibles decreases. To the extent that
this happens, the interfering effects of heterogeneity are attenuated for those who marry in
their late twenties and early thirties.
This research underlines the usefulness of a
phenomenological interpretation of marriage as a
dramatic act of reconstruction. The suggestion
that such a reconstruction would be more problematic at a later age because of a firmly objectified construction of singleness appears incorrect.
Apparently the word dramatic is equally valid for
younger and older brides and grooms. For both, a
heterogeneous background can form an equally
difficult obstacle for a successful reshaping of
their separate identities into a construction of
marriage. However, the chances of being confronted with this obstacle are much greater for
those who marry later in life.

FOOTNOTES
1. In multipleregressiona normaldistributionof the
dependentvariableis assumedfor the unbiasedcomputation of significantlevels (Cohen and Cohen,
1975:48). Becausethe scoreson the maritalinstability index show considerableheteroscedasticityand
the directionof the resultingbias is unknown,variables that do not quite reachstatisticalsignificance
were not excluded from the presentedequations.
of the instabilityscores
Logarithmictransformations
wouldhaveproduceda normaldistributionof the independent variable, but such a transformation
obscuresthe substantivemeaningsof the results.In
addition, such a transformation automatically
makesthe relationshipbetweenage at first marriage
and instabilitylinear,sinceall joint normaldistributions have linearrelationships(Blalock, 1979:388).

This content downloaded from 128.235.251.160 on Sat, 17 Jan 2015 15:36:53 PM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

JOURNAL OF MARRIAGE AND THE FAMILY

640

2. The social class measures are based on the following


variables: (a) the social class of both spouses' parents
(Tables 1, 2, and 3): the z score values on occupational prestige and years of schooling for both
spouses' mother and father; (b) both spouses' social
class (Tables 1 and 2): the z scores for spouses' occupational prestige and years of schooling and for
the family's income and assets.
3. Dummy variable analysis indicates that missing
values are randomly distributed. For the further
analysis, missing values are therefore assigned the
mean value of this heterogeneity variable. While the
introduction of the mean value prevents distortion of
the statistical computation, this technique does not
assume that the missing values indeed have the mean
value (Cohen and Cohen, 1975: 265).

REFERENCES
Adams, Bert N. 1979. "Mate selection in the United
States: A theoretical summation." Pp. 259-267 in
Wesley R. Burr, Reuben Hill, F. Ivan Nye, and Ira L.
Reiss (eds.), Contemporary Theories about the Family (Vol. 1). New York: Free Press.
Bauman, Karl E. 1967. "The relationship between age
at first marriage, school dropout, and marital instability: An analysis of the Glick effect." Journal of
Marriage and the Family 29: 672-680.
Berger, Peter L., and Hansfried Kellner. 1980. "Marriage and the construction of reality." Pp. 392-402 in
Howard Robboy and Candace Clark (eds.), Social Interaction. New York: St. Martin's Press.
Bernard, Jessie Sherley. 1982. The Future of Marriage.
New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Blalock, Herbert M. 1979. Social Statistics. New York:
McGraw-Hill.
Booth, Alan, and John N. Edwards. 1984. Age at Marriage and Marital Instability. Unpublished manuscript.
Booth, Alan, David R. Johnson, and John N. Edwards.
1983. "Measuring marital instability." Journal of
Marriage and the Family 45: 387-393.
Booth, Alan, David R. Johnson, and Lynn K. White.
1981. Female Labor Force Participation and Marital
Instability: Methodology Report. Unpublished manuscript.
Booth, Alan, and Lynn K. White. 1980. "Thinking
about divorce." Journal of Marriage and the Family
29: 672-680.
Bumpass, Larry L., and James A. Sweet. 1972. "Differentials in marital instability: 1972." American Sociological Review 37: 754-767.

Burchinal, Lee G. 1965. "Trends and prospects for


young marriages in the United States." Journal of
Marriage and the Family 27: 243-244.
Christensen, Harold T., and Kenneth E. Barber. 1967.
"Interfaith versus intrafaith marriage in Indiana."
Journal of Marriage and the Family 29: 461-469.
Cohen, Jacob, and Patricia Cohen. 1975. Applied Multiple Regression/Correlation Analysis for the Behavioral Sciences. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum
Associates.
Elder, Glen H., Jr., and R. C. Rockwell. 1976. "Marital timing in women's life patterns." Journal of
Family History 1: 34-53.
Glenn, Norval D., and Michael Supancic. 1984. "The
social and demographic correlates of divorce and
separation in the United States: An update and reconsideration." Journal of Marriage and the Family 46:
563-575.
Glick, Paul C., and Arthur J. Norton. 1971. "Frequency, duration, and probability of marriage and
divorce." Journal of Marriage and the Family 33:
307-317.
Heer, David M. 1974. "The prevalence of black-white
marriage in the United States, 1960 and 1970." Journal of Marriage and the Family 36: 246-258.
Landis, Judson T. 1963. "Social correlates of divorce or
nondivorce among the unhappily married." Marriage
and Family Living 25: 178-180.
Lee, Gary R. 1977. "Age at marriage and marital satisfaction: A multivariate analysis with implications for
marital stability." Journal of Marriage and the Family 39: 493-504.
Lewis, Robert A., and Graham B. Spanier. 1979. "Theorizing about the quality and stability of marriage."
Pp. 268-294 in Wesley R. Burr, Reuben, Hill, F. Ivan
Nye, and Ira L. Reiss (eds.), Contemporary Theories
about the Family (Vol. 1). New York: Free Press.
Monahan, Thomas P. 1953. "Does age at marriage
matter in divorce?" Social Forces 32: 81-87.
Palmer, Sally E. 1971. "Reasons for marriage breakdown: A case study in south-western Ontario
(Canada)." Journal of Comparative Family Studies
2: 251-262.
Reiss, Ira L. 1980. Family Systems in America (3rd ed.).
New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
Scanzoni, John. 1968. "A social system analysis of dissolved and existing marriages." Journal of Marriage
and the Family 30: 452-461.
Schoen, Robert. 1975. "California divorce rates by age
at first marriage and duration of first marriage."
Journal of Marriage and the Family 37: 548-555.
Weed, James A. 1974. "Age at marriage as a factor in
state divorce rate differentials." Demography 11:
361-375.

This content downloaded from 128.235.251.160 on Sat, 17 Jan 2015 15:36:53 PM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions