THE BLOG
11/15/2014 11:36 am ET Updated Jan 16, 2015

Re-Dos: What's Behind Second Marriage?

First, a confession: I have been married to the same man for over 25 years -- my first, and I hope, only husband. But many of my friends and colleagues are on their second round and the subject has always fascinated me. So, as a student of human relations and a practitioner of relationship-building, I think the recent data on remarriage deserves some attention -- even without, in my case, experimentation.

New data by the Pew Research Center finds that 40 percent of newlyweds are previously married or widowed people -- an increase over past years. 42 million adults remarried in 2013, according to the survey -- up from 22 million in 1980. Among married couples today, 23 percent had been married before compared with 13 percent in 1960. Even more striking, 8 percent of newlyweds in 2013 had been married three times or more. The study also reveals that 20 percent of all marriages in 2013 involved spouses who had both been previously married. That's a lot of champagne!

Human beings are constantly evolving and behavior often reflects the times in which we live. Here are some of the factors at play that I see in this new data:

1. Divorce: In America you can't marry a second time unless you are divorced or widowed. Despite contradictory data on divorce rates, the fact is that the baby boomers have driven up the numbers on divorce and remarriage. The first wave of increased divorce numbers show up in the 1980s when the baby boomers got out of first marriages. Now in their 50s and 60s, the boomers are getting out of second marriages. Often thought of as a restless bunch, the boomers are proving their rebounding restlessness over time. We remain a group always in search of the next great thing.

2. Aging: With people living longer and stronger, the chances increase for second marriages after the death of spouses. Among older adults, 50 percent remarried in 2013, up from 34 percent in 1960. Again, there are more baby boomers out there creating a robust supply of second timers. What is interesting about the Pew poll is that it confirms what most of us already knew -- men are more willing and eager to remarry and to pick a spouse at least 10 years younger. Among previously married or widowed men, 65 percent would remarry or are unsure if they would. Only 43 percent of women say they would consider another marriage. Twice as many women as men flatly say NO to another marriage.
In my mind, that data confirms a hidden gap in how men and women live their lives and marriages with women still taking on the lion's share of care giving and unwilling to take on those burdens multiple times in life. The report does take note of a potential new trend of women who find themselves alone in later life and are becoming more open to remarriage, but most still say "no thanks" to doing more laundry. (My husband actually does ours.)

3. Economics: Although the report does not delve into the financial reasons behind remarriage, one supposes that the recession may have driven single people under one roof. But the irony is that living together has become more popular -- cohabitation figures have been on the rise for many years and younger American have increasingly delayed marriage. So despite second marriages being on the rise, the fact remains that fewer people actually make it down the aisle in America with only 70 percent of adults saying they married at some point in their lives, compared with 85 percent in 1960.

The new Pew data opens more questions than it answers. For one, it fails to capture numbers on same sex marriage, a recent and growing population. The study also leaves open the impact of the rise of retirement villages, assisted living facilities and other places where older couples find new partners.

What the Pew study does, however, reinforce well -- is the notion that America is truly a nation of second chances. If we fail, we try, again. In fact, our national sport, baseball, allows for more than two strikes. We are a country that encourages do-overs. That spirit will be important as we face challenges and problems that a single individual may not be able to solve.

So I lift a glass to all those new marriages and the "old" ones. It is always nice to know that people are not bowling alone!

Tara Sonenshine teaches communications at George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs.