Can We Use Science to Predict the Failure of Relationships?

An article in the New York Times this week claims that an equation can predict the success or – more likely – failure of a celebrity marriage.

And guess what? Celebrities…they’re just like us. Prone to making rash, impulsive, bad decisions based on attraction and short-term thinking.

Says the piece, the factors that contribute to a breakup are, “the spouses’ combined age (younger couples divorce sooner), the length of the courtship (quicker to wed, quicker to split), and the sex-symbol factor (defined formally as the number of Google hits showing the wife “in clothing designed to elicit libidinous intent”).

Celebrities…they’re just like us. Prone to making rash, impulsive, bad decisions based on attraction and short-term thinking.

Similarly, “the trait of narcissism predicted likelihood of sexual infidelity. Those high on narcissism feel entitled to have sex with others. Also, they oscillate between feelings of grandiosity and worthlessness, and the sexual attention helps keep them in the self-aggrandizing region of self-esteem.”

Well, duh.

Finally, there’s the immaturity factor: “We know that people marrying young have a much higher chance of divorcing,” Dr. Stevenson says. “But what’s much harder to tell is whether the types of people who marry young are more likely to divorce, or whether the young age at time of marriage actually makes the marriage more prone to divorce.”

To me, it’s a miracle any celebrity marriage lasts at all. Consider that actors are often insecure and flaky, their careers rise and fall like the tides, there’s intense jealousy and envy of others, you’re constantly surrounded by attractive and wealthy people, you travel all the time away from your spouse, there’s always the possibility of on-set romance, and you don’t lead a “normal” life with 10 hours a day committed to work. From here, the best bet is that one person is famous and the other person isn’t.

Read the article here and please, share your thoughts.

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  1. 1

    This article ties in with the “Best Actress Oscar Curse” (see .
    When both partners are celebrities / in show business, and she (or he) “suddenly” becomes more famous than their partner is/has been, the balance of power/ego in the relationship shifts – and most of the time the relationship does not survive the shift where “she” is the one whose star suddenly rises.
    If only one member of the relationship is a “star”, then there’s no competition for who’s getting the most press / biggest paychecks / best awards etc. etc.
    This is definitely a case of where marrying your complement, not your clone, works out way better.

  2. 2

    Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones manage to combine a large age difference (although a high total count of years) with an international marriage and still stay married despite his illness.  The case is not hopeless even for celebrities.

    I recently looked at a UK statistics office study summarised elsewhere on Evan’s blog about age difference at divorce.  Until recently, there was a considerable spike in divorce rates where the age difference was a man two years older than the woman.  I would attribute this to shotgun marriages and perhaps other early marriages.  The other very clear trend was that marriages where the woman is older have a higher    divorce rate than average especially as the age differences increase and where the man is older they have a lower divorce rate as the age difference increases.  So another distinct factor can be added to the equation, not age difference, which will balance to zero but female age difference.

  3. 3
    Christie Hartman

    Very interesting stuff. What was really intriguing about the formula was the wife’s “sex-symbol factor” (defined as the number of Google hits showing the wife “in clothing designed to elicit libidinous intent”). In the article, they didn’t have much explanation for why this would be important, except for a quote from David Buss saying that women who wear revealing clothing are more narcissistic. I’m not convinced that’s it. Instead, I’d offer that when the woman is really hot or sex-symbol-like, she’s more likely to attract the wrong men for the wrong reasons. Hell, even Patti Stanger says that bombshell-type women elicit marriage proposals much more quickly than girls-next-door or other women who are less sex-symbol-like. It’s hard to make a good choice when blinded by chemistry. 

  4. 4

    I think that is a reasonable assumption, except there are plenty of organically beautiful women who do not dress vampy.  There could still be a lot of chemistry between people who don’t dress in a suggestive fashion.  I think there really is something to that female narcissist thing where these women are obviously going to extremes to get male attention.  (Jennifer Lopez and Kim Kardashian come to mind.)  I think the male corollary is the male flirt or rubberneck.  I would guess those men are just as unreliable in a celebrity marriage, but that that population is likely more difficult to quantify and therefore weren’t mention in the equation.

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