Wedding Belles?

This column originally appeared in The Observer magazine/Guardian online

 One for the married (or divorced) couples this week (if you haven’t been married yourself, why not try this test on hitched friends or family? – though I can’t promise they’ll thank you!). Answer these two questions to predict the likelihood of a successful marriage.

First, how many people came to your wedding: (a) Just the two of us, (b) 11-50, (c), 51-100, (d) 101-200, (e) 201 or more.

Second, how much in total did you spend on the wedding: (a) £0-1k, (b) £1-5k, (c) £5-10k, (d) £10-20k, (e) £20k+, (f) don’t know.

With regard to the first question, the more people came to your wedding, the better. Those with 50 or more guests (c-e) are only half as likely to end up divorced as the just-the-two-of-us couples (a). Even those with just 11-50 guests (b) are only 60% as likely to get divorced as those who eschew guests altogether (even after controlling for age, income, ethnicity and a host of other demographic variables). Why? Presumably, if you’re not sure it will last, you’re reluctant or embarrassed to invite anyone that you don’t absolutely have to.

With regard to the second question, the less you spent the better. Compared with couples who spend £5-10k (the average ballpark figure) (c), couples who spend £0-1k (a) or who don’t know (f) are around 35% less likely to end up divorced. But couples who spend £20k+ (e) are around 32% more likely to end up divorced than the middle-of-the-road couples. This suggests that outlandish wedding spending may be (just on average of course) be a way of papering over the cracks.

These conclusions are based on a 2014 study conducted at Emory University, which also found that divorce is less likely for couples who are older, richer, more religious, and who knew each other for at least three years before tying the knot.

 A fully referenced version of this article is available at Order Psy-Q by Ben Ambridge (Profile Books, £8.99) for £6.99 at

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