multiple marriages;divorce Larry King has just announced his split from his seventh wife, Shawn Southwick, amid reports that they've both had affairs (see our article, The State of Affairs: How Many People Cheat?). They have been married since 1997, making their union the longest in his storied marital career-which so far has involved a total of six women. Like serial bride Elizabeth Taylor (who last week denied rumors she would be taking husband number nine), King has one repeat in his long string of nuptials. He married Alene Atkins twice.
We all know the pitfalls of "Hollywood marriages," how the combination of money, beauty, and movie-set lustfulness (known in the industry as "showmance") seems to create a cycle of pre-nup, divorce, pre-nup. But what about regular people who happen to bounce through multiple marriages? These days, it's not so unusual for Americans to marry and divorce…and remarry, and divorce again. 1 in 10.19 people 15 or older is divorced, a startling statistics. 1 in 11.76 men ages 40-44 have been married three or more times, and so have 1 in 14.08 women of the same age. The preponderance of multiple marriages might be symptomatic of our steadily growing ease with splitting up-or maybe serial brides and grooms are just the ultimate optimists about love.
Outside Hollywood, it isn't Americans with the most glamorous lifestyles who are marrying the most. For a woman (ages 15-44) who's free of serious money worries, living at 3 or more times the poverty level, the odds of having been married three times or more are 1 in 41.67. Her less well-off counterpart is significantly more likely to serially tie the knot: a low-middle-income woman, living at 1.5-3 times the poverty level, has a 1 in 23.81 chance of heading down the aisle multiple times. And yet, below the poverty line, the likelihood of multiple marriages drops off again. It's those in the middle, it seems, who are most likely to marry several times. Likewise, high school graduates are more likely to marry multiple times than their counterparts with bachelor's degrees, or those without a high school diploma.
The world record for multiple marriages, according to the Guinness Book, goes to Linda Wolfe. Ms. Wolfe, born Linda Lou Taylor, is 68 years old and 23 times a bride, but she still hasn't found The One. In 2009 she told the Chicago Sun-Times that, after 12 years of being single, she was up for another walk down the aisle-if for no other reason than to fend off loneliness.
Ms. Wolfe's rationale-that being single just gets lonely-seems like a logical driver for many who continue to opt for companionship even when their relationships aren't ideal. After all, research shows that most of us like to be paired off. Married people tend to report higher levels of happiness, well-being, and earning power. So as the average lifespan gets longer, many of us are likely to go through more partners.
Of course, this doesn't mean there isn't still a stigma attached to having two or three divorces. Some fear the "scandal" aspect of that third divorce; others wonder how their relationship pattern will come across to their children or their new partners. And in spite of progress in gender equality, women remain more likely to be stigmatized than men. When it came out that Judith Giuliani, wife of former presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani, had been married three times, it caused a stir-even though Mayor Giuliani himself had also been married three times.
Despite the potential discomfort associated with explaining your first and second divorces to your third set of in-laws-and the concern, voiced by Gaetano Ferro, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, that we tend to repeat our mistakes, which helps explain why divorce rates are higher for remarriages-many serial monogamists remain positive about their married futures. After all, it might take a few marriages to get it right-but for many, the benefits of companionship are worth the effort.
More from Book of Odds:
- The State of Affairs: How Many People Cheat?
Does Marriage Kill Sex Drive?
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