What determines marital instability is an important area of research for demography, sociology and economics, with a host of public policy implications. This paper improves our understanding of the issue through the use of rich longitudinal data and the application of advanced research approaches for one of the first times anywhere, and certainly uniquely for Australian data. The combination of method and recent Australian data represents a significant advance in this research area. Using data from waves 1–7 of Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey, 2,482 married couples—where both partners are respondents in the first wave—are traced over 6 years to identify factors associated with marital separation. The data are analysed dyadically; that is, the characteristics of both partners in each couple are considered in tandem. This allows assessment of whether marriages between partners with similar characteristics (homogamy) are more likely to last than are marriages between dissimilar partners, or whether particular characteristics of wives or husbands—independent of their partners’—are more strongly associated with marital stability. A Cox proportional hazards model with time-varying covariates is used to assess the association of characteristics with marital separation. Our most important contribution relates to the role of homogamy in marital stability or instability and in the context of spousal differences we find the following factors associated with higher risk of marital separation: age, education, preference for a child, and drinking and smoking behaviour. As well, there is a clear positive association between separation and: dissatisfaction with the relationship; husband’s unemployment and perceived financial stress; early age at marriage; separation of parents; second-plus marriage; resident children born before marriage; and low household income. The last of these findings should matter directly for public policy formulation.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
The subjective rate of time preference reflects a household’s weighting of the value of future compared to current gains.
In the search model in the marriage market, the quality of the match relates to both the current relationship and the probability of finding the right future partner with the desired qualities (following Weiss 1997).
At this stage the modelling does not distinguish between children of both the couple and children of just one of the couple. There are considerable programming and interpretative issues associated with going an additional step and this should be considered to be a useful extension to be incorporated in future empirical work.
We also tested the role of husband’s education by itself by replacing the dyadic education variable with husband’s education classified in the same way as wife’s education. The result was that husbands with a ‘bachelor degree or above’ had a higher risk of separation than husbands who ‘did not complete high school’. This is essentially consistent with the dyadic variable results, where higher levels of education for the husband are associated with higher risks of separation.
Amato, P. R. (1996). Explaining the intergenerational transmission of divorce. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 58(3), 628–640.
Amato, P. (2000). The consequences of divorce for adults and children. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62(4), 1269–1287.
Amato, P. (2001). Children of divorce in the 1990s: An update of the Amato and Keith (1991) meta-analysis. Journal of Family Psychology, 15(3), 355–370.
Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). (2006). Household expenditure survey and survey of income and housing: User guide. Catalogue number 6503.0, Canberra.
Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). (2009). Consumer price index Australia. Catalogue number 6401.0, Canberra.
Becker, G. S. (1965). A theory of the allocation of time. Economic Journal, 75(299), 493–517.
Becker, G. S. (1973). A theory of marriage: Part 1. Journal of Political Economy, 81(4), 813–846.
Becker, G. S., Landes, E. M., & Michael, R. T. (1977). An economic analysis of marital instability. Journal of Political Economy, 85(6), 1141–1187.
Bracher, M., Santow, G., Morgan, S. P., & Trussell, J. (1993). Marriage dissolution in Australia: Models and explanations. Population Studies, 47(3), 403–425.
Bradbury, B., & Norris, K. (2005). Income and separation. Journal of Sociology, 41(4), 425–446.
Bratter, J. L., & King, R. B. (2008). ‘But will it last?’: Marital instability among interracial and same-race couples. Family Relations, 57(2), 160–171.
Bumpass, L. L., Martin, T. C., & Sweet, J. A. (1991). The impact of family background and early marital factors on marital disruption. Journal of Family Issues, 12(1), 22–42.
Bumpass, L. L., & Sweet, J. A. (1972). Differentials in marital instability: 1970. American Sociological Review, 37(6), 754–766.
Butterworth, P., Oz, T., Rodgers, B., & Berry, H. (2008). Factors associated with relationship dissolution of Australian families with children. Social Policy Research Paper No. 37. Canberra: Australian Government Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.
Butterworth, P., & Rodgers, B. (2008). Mental health problems and marital disruption: Is it the combination of husbands and wives’ mental health problems that predicts later divorce? Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 43(9), 758–763.
Caces, M. F., Harford, T. C., Williams, G. D., & Hanna, E. Z. (1999). Alcohol consumption and divorce rates in the United States. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 60(5), 647–652.
Chan, T. W., & Halpin, B. (2003). Union dissolution in the United Kingdom. International Journal of Sociology, 32(4), 76–93.
Clarkwest, A. (2007). Spousal dissimilarity, race, and marital dissolution. Journal of Marriage and Family, 69(3), 639–653.
Cleves, M. A., Gould, W. W., & Gutierrez, R. G. (2004). An introduction to survival analysis using Stata. College Station: Stata Corporation.
Compton, J. (2009). Why do smokers divorce? Time preference and marital stability. Winnipeg: Department of Economics, University of Manitoba.
Coombs, L. C., & Zumeta, Z. (1970). Correlates of marital dissolution in a prospective fertility study: A research note. Social Problems, 18(1), 92–102.
Cox, D. R. (1972). Regression models and life tables. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society: Series B (Methodological), 34(2), 187–220.
De Maris, A. (2004). Regression with social data: Modeling continuous and limited response variables. London: Wiley.
de Vaus, D., Gray, M., Qu, L., & Stanton, D. (2007). The consequences of divorce for financial living standards in later life. Research Paper 38. Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.
de Vaus, D., Qu, L., & Weston, R. (2003). Premarital cohabitation and subsequent marital stability. Family Matters, 65, 34–39.
de Vaus, D., Qu, L., & Weston, R. (2005). The disappearing link between premarital cohabitation and subsequent marital stability, 1970–2001. Journal of Population Research, 22(2), 99–118.
Fu, H., & Goldman, N. (2000). The association between health-related behaviours and the risk of divorce in the USA. Journal of Biosocial Science, 32(1), 63–88.
Gray, M., & Chapman, B. (2007). Relationship breakdown and the economic welfare of Australian mothers and their children. Australian Journal of Labour Economics, 10(4), 251–275.
Hansen, H. (2005). Unemployment and marital dissolution: A panel data study of Norway. European Sociological Review, 21(2), 135–148.
Heaton, T. B., & Blake, A. M. (1999). Gender differences in determinants of marital disruption. Journal of Family Issues, 20(1), 25–45.
Hewitt, B. (2008). Marriage breakdown in Australia: Social correlates, gender and initiator status. Social Policy Research Paper No. 35. Canberra: Australian Government Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.
Hewitt, B., Baxter, J., & Western, M. (2005). Marriage breakdown in Australia: The social correlates of separation and divorce. Journal of Sociology, 41(2), 163–183.
Hewitt, B., & de Vaus, D. (2009). Change in the association between premarital cohabitation and separation, Australia, 1945–2000. Journal of Marriage and Family, 71(2), 353–361.
Hewitt, B., Western, M., & Baxter, J. (2006). Who decides? The social characteristics of who initiates marital separation. Journal of Marriage and Family, 68(5), 1165–1177.
Hohmann-Marriott, B. E. (2006). Shared beliefs and the union stability of married and cohabiting couples. Journal of Marriage and Family, 68(4), 1015–1028.
Homish, G. G., & Leonard, K. E. (2007). The drinking partnership and marital satisfaction: The longitudinal influence of discrepant drinking. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 75(1), 43–51.
House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs (HOR). (1998). To have and to hold: Strategies to strengthen marriage and relationships. Parliamentary Paper 95/1998. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.
Jain, S. (2007). Lifetime marriage and divorce trends. Australian Social Trends. Catalogue No. 4102.0. Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Jalovaara, M. (2003). The joint effects of marriage partners’ socioeconomic positions on the risk of divorce. Demography, 40(1), 67–81.
Jensen, P., & Smith, N. (1990). Unemployment and marital dissolution. Journal of Population Economics, 3(3), 215–229.
Kalmijn, M., & Poortman, A. (2006). His or her divorce? The gendered nature of divorce and its determinants. European Sociological Review, 22(2), 201–214.
Kiernan, K., & Mueller, G. (1999). Who divorces? In S. McRae (Ed.), Changing Britain: Families and households in the 1990s (pp. 377–403). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Lancaster, K. J. (1966). A new approach to consumer theory. Journal of Political Economy, 74(2), 132–157.
Lehrer, E. L. (2004). Religion as a determinant of economic and demographic behavior in the United States. Population and Development Review, 30(4), 707–726.
Lehrer, E. L. (2008). Age at marriage and marital instability: Revisiting the Becker–Landes–Michael hypothesis. Journal of Population Economics, 21(2), 463–484.
Lyngstad, T. H. (2004). The impact of parents’ and spouses’ education on divorce rates in Norway. Demographic Research, 10(5), 121–142.
Ortega, S. T., Whitt, H. P., & Williams, J. A., Jr. (1988). Religious homogamy and marital happiness. Journal of Family Issues, 9(2), 224–239.
Ostermann, J., Sloan, F. A., & Taylor, D. H. (2005). Heavy alcohol use and marital dissolution in the USA. Social Science and Medicine, 61(11), 2304–2316.
Poortman, A., & Lyngstad, T. H. (2007). Dissolution risks in first and higher order marital and cohabiting unions. Social Science Research, 36(4), 1431–1446.
Power, C., & Estaugh, V. (1990). The role of family formation and dissolution in shaping drinking behaviour in early adulthood. British Journal of Addiction, 85(4), 521–530.
Ross, H. L., & Sawhill, I. V. (1975). Time of transition: The growth of families headed by women. Washington, D.C.: The Urban Institute.
Smith, I. (1997). Explaining the growth of divorce in Great Britain. Scottish Journal of Political Economy, 44(5), 519–544.
Teachman, J. D. (2002). Stability across cohorts in divorce risk factors. Demography, 39(2), 331–351.
Thomson, E. (1997). Couple childbearing desires, intentions, and births. Demography, 34(3), 343–354.
Tzeng, J. M. (1992). The effects of socioeconomic heterogamy and changes on marital dissolution for first marriages. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 54(3), 609–619.
Tzeng, J. M., & Mare, R. D. (1995). Labor market and socioeconomic effects on marital stability. Social Science Research, 24, 329–351.
Wagner, M., & Weiss, B. (2006). On the variation of divorce risks in Europe: Findings from a meta-analysis of European longitudinal studies. European Sociological Review, 22(5), 483–500.
Weiss, Y. (1997). The formation and dissolution of families: Why marry? Who marries whom? And what happens upon divorce? In M. R. Rosenzweig & O. Stark (Eds.), Handbook of population and family economics. Elsevier.
Weiss, Y., & Willis, R. J. (1997). Match quality, new information and marital dissolution. Journal of Labor Economics, 15(1), S293–S329.
Wolcott, I., & Hughes, J. (1999). Towards understanding the reasons for divorce. Working Paper 20. Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.
Wolfinger, N. H. (2003). Family structure homogamy: The effects of parental divorce on partner selection and marital stability. Social Science Research, 32(1), 80–97.
Zeiss, A. M., Zeiss, R., & Johnson, S. (1981). Sex differences in initiation of and adjustment to divorce. Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, 4(2), 21–33.
Analysis in this paper was carried out using Stata. This paper uses confidentialised unit record file from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey. The HILDA Project was initiated and is funded by the Commonwealth Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) and is managed by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research (MIAESR). Kiatanantha Lounkaew would like to acknowledge financial assistance from Dhurakij Pundit University (DPU). The findings and views reported in this paper, however, are those of the authors and should not be attributed to FaHCSIA, the MIAESR or DPU. We are grateful to Ruth Weston, several FaHCSIA colleagues, the editor and two anonymous referees, for valuable comments on drafts of this paper.
Rights and permissions
About this article
Cite this article
Kippen, R., Chapman, B., Yu, P. et al. What’s love got to do with it? Homogamy and dyadic approaches to understanding marital instability. J Pop Research 30, 213–247 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12546-013-9108-y
- Marital separation