Small age gap gives more stable relationships

Couples of similar ages are least likely to separate. Divorce rates increase when the age gap is five years or more. This is evident from new research conducted by Statistics Netherlands (CBS).

Cohabiting couples (whether married or unmarried) with a minor age difference are more likely to stay together than couples with a larger age gap. Of couples who started cohabiting in 2003 with an age gap of up to two years, 25 percent had split after twelve years. The odds of separation were barely higher in couples with a two to five-year difference. The risk of divorce is rated at 30 percent for couples with an age gap of five to ten years. This risk increases as the age gap grows wider.
Couples with a large age difference are found to be slightly more stable when the male half is senior. 29 percent of couples with a male partner who was five to ten years senior to his spouse had broken up after twelve years. The divorce rate was 32 percent among couples with the woman five to ten years senior to her male partner.

Split up after 12 years, by age gap, 2003-2015 (%)
 TotalMan olderWoman older
Less than 2 yrs25.0
2 to 4 yrs25.925.726.5
5 to 9 yrs29.529.131.9
10 yrs or more34.934.736.4

Young couples more likely to split

Couples who started living together at a relatively young age are more likely to end up separating or divorcing. Almost half (49 percent) of couples with a female partner who was between the ages of 18 and 20 when they moved in together had split after twelve years. For female partners between the ages of 20 and 25, the divorce rate was already significantly lower (29 percent). Couples setting up a household where the female partner was 25 or older were least likely to separate (25 percent).

Split up after 12 years, by age of woman at the start of cohabitation in 2003 (%)
 Split up
18 to 19 yrs49.1
20 to 24 yrs28.8
25 to 29 yrs24.4
30 to 34 yrs25.2
35 to 39 yrs25.5
40 yrs and over24.1

Highly educated couples least divorce-prone

The partners’ education level, too, plays a role in the durability of relationships. The risk of separation is smallest among highly educated couples. 19 percent of couples who started cohabiting in 2003 with both partners holding a higher professional or university qualification had split after twelve years. There is a marked difference with couples who are not highly educated: 31 percent of this group had separated after twelve years. Stability in cohabitation relationships in which only one of the partners is highly educated is found to lie in between.
Whether the highly educated partner is male or female makes a difference. 27 percent of couples with a highly educated woman had split after twelve years; the share was 24 percent in couples with a highly educated man. A high-education background is therefore more relevant for the stability of the relationship when it applies to the man rather than the woman.

Split-up rates, couples who started cohabitation in 2003 (%)
 Neither highly educatedOnly man highly educatedOnly woman highly educatedBoth highly educated

No children and low income also impact divorce rates

Aside from age gaps, age at the start of the relationship and education level, there are more factors involved in the durability of relationships. Unmarried and childless couples are more likely to separate, for example. The same applies to couples with children from a previous relationship, mixed couples (in terms of migration background), one or both partners still studying, and low-income earners. Furthermore, the divorce rate is found to decline after four years of cohabitation.