Men, Premarital Sex, and Divorce

National Survey of Family Growth

The researchers released information about the effect of having sex before marriage increasing a woman’s divorce rate. Clearly this study doesn’t show causation, but simply correlation.

However, the researchers didn’t say anything about men and their relationship to premarital sex.

This survey (2006-2010) did not ask men and women the same questions. That seems to me to be a significant problem with their data.

My son went through the raw data trying to determine the correlation between men, premarital sex, and divorce.

In the study, there were a total of 10,403 male respondents. 1,773 were virgins at the time of the study. That means 8,630 were not virgins. (About 17% were virgins.)

Age distribution of this sample:
average age is 28 (That is a very young population.)
I am surprised it is that young. If you are making correlations about divorce rate, I would want to have a little bit older group.
The 10,403 men ranged in ages from 15 to 44. There is no clumping of age, but the average for the study was 28. (Twenty-nine years span, for equal distribution, average age should be 29-31.)

Also, I went to find out what the average age of marriage is.
For men for 2006-2010 in the US, the average age 27.5 (2006) to 28.2 (2010). For women the average marital age is 26 for the same time period (25.9-26.1). So that married men were included in this study at all is actually surprising, because men’s average marital age at the time is 28.

That gives 8,630 who were not virgins. When did they first have sex?
320 married
63 engaged/living together
106 engaged not living together
76 living together in asexual relationship, but not engaged
3858 going steady or going out with her
967 going out with her once in a while
2248 just friends
694 just met her
298 some other relationship
Total of 8,630

How many are married at the time of the study?
2824 were currently married
207 were separated
499 were divorced
15 were widowed
188 have been married and are currently living with someone, but not married to them (Does not say if these are divorced persons or widows or whatever)
For a total of 3,733 men in this sample who have ever been married. (This includes folks who have been married more than one time.)

3,733 men have ever married
434 have been married 2x (This could include the 15 who were widowed.)
55 3x
6 married 4 or more times

So the set for those who had no sex before they were married was very small; 3% of the 10,000 guys waited till marriage.

My son wanted to see what the implications for men having sex before marriage had on their divorce rate.

No sex before marriage:
divorce rate for men = 4%
So, if a guy is a virgin, it is a super good signal for a durable marriage.

Sex with their engaged partner:
divorce rate for men = 16%

For engaged versus married (men), p = .00193, that’s the largest p value. For men going steady versus men engaged, p = .000392. P value is the significance. Statistical significance is usually about .05.

Using the pi squared set (two data sets compared): If there were no actual relationship, you would get a .05 (2%) chance of getting a false positive. That is not the same as the odds of it being correct or incorrect.

The chance of getting the difference between the two sets of engaged v. married is .2% (10x less likely than the p value for a false positive). This indicates the results are VERY significant (one in 500 times would happen randomly).

In fact, there is a correlation between having sex before marriage and a reduction in the success of marriage for men.

Istock photo elderly couple holding hands

Based on the numbers, women’s premarital sex has less impact on their divorce rate.

For women:
The study included 12,279 women. 1,674 of the women were virgins at the time of the study. That means that 10,605 women were not virgins at the time of the study. The average age for women in the study was 29.

Seven women said they have never been married (as current status) and said they had been married once in answer to a different question. Obviously these 7 will skew the numbers. Which answer was incorrect? Probably the one of current status. (I would think that people would easily say how many times they have been married and not necessarily notice that a negative is permanent, not immediate.)

Even if the 7 skew the numbers, however, they don’t do much skewing for a study of 12,279 women.

The original study looked at women having sex with their first sexual partner and asking what their relationship was at the time (asked of men) and asking what the relationship was now (not asked of men–so you can’t look at that number for men).

When did women first have sex?
760 married (110 divorced) which is 14.6% failure rate
328 engaged (90 divorced)
3198 going steady or going out (981 divorced)

divorce rate for women = 14.9% based on the study parameters, 15% reported
Using the same data and same tests my son used, the divorce rate for women who had no sex before marriage was 14.56%, which would still be 15%. The difference may be because my son did not include the separations as failed marriages (since not everyone who separates gets divorced), but the study did.

Looks like the difference between having sex with a guy you are going out with versus engaged to is not statistically distinguishable. Since this sample is so large, that is very significant.

Comparing men and women:
About half as many men who had ever had sex waited for marriage, compared to how many women had ever had sex waited for marriage. (3.7 v 7.2%).

Even if virginity is not a cause of divorce rate lowering for men, there is a high correlation. Because of that high correlation, it is still a good metric to determine whether the male partner will stay married.

So, basically, the divorce rate for men who wait until marriage to have sex is significantly lower, 10% less, than for women who wait to have sex before they get married.