Seventy-year study hails success of later marriages

Divorce|June 25th 2014

Divorce and remarriage in later life can be successful, according to data from the world’s longest running study of human relationships.

The ‘Grant Study’, formally known as the Study of Human Development, tracked the lives of 268 male students at Harvard University over a period of seven decades, from 1938 right through until 2011. By the time of the final update, the surviving men were in the 90s.

During the life of the study, seven of the participants never married. Of the remainder, 173 married on a single occasion. Just over a third (51) of these described their marriage as ‘happy’, and 73 as ‘so so’. Forty-nine, however, described their marriage, as ‘unhappy’. Only one of those in an unhappy marriage said the relationship had improved in later life.

Sixty-two of the men got divorced during the course of the study. More than half of these either remained single or entered a new unhappy marriage.

However, 23 of the divorcees did remarry happily. The average length of these second marriages was a healthy 33 years.

The Grant Study was supervised by Professor George Vaillant, now 80, for as long as 45 years. Speaking at a conference held by the relationship and family charity OnePlusOne, he hailed the unexpected success of remarriages in later life, describing the data as “startling”.

The Professor cited one participant who married four times, marrying for the final time at the age of 45. He stayed in this marriage for a full 42 years. Another gave up drinking and gained a new sense of purpose after marrying a second time.

Reviewing data from the study, Professor Vaillant concluded that many of the men who remarried had ended their lives happier than those who stayed in unsatisfactory homes.

He told delegates:

“By age 85 their psychosocial adjustment was as good as those men who had happily married only once. The mean length of marriage for the surviving couples still in their first and only marriage was over 60 years. But the mean length of remarriage for the 23 divorced but happily remarried men was almost 35 years.”

The Professor added:

“One of the great lessons of the Grant Study is that people grow up.”

Photo by Garry Knight via Flickr

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