Fame doesn’t doom marriage, but tabloid fame does

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com

Interesting to think that the predictors of divorce, in a celebrity marriage, are much stronger signals for the wife than for the husband. This has something to do with 70% of all divorces being initiated by women, so the husbands have relatively little hope of determining the fate of the marriage.

What went right with them — and wrong with our equation? Garth, a self-professed über-geek, has crunched the numbers and discovered a better way to gauge the toxic effects of celebrity. Whereas the old equation measured fame by counting the millions of Google hits, the new equation uses a ratio of two other measures: the number of mentions in The Times divided by mentions in The National Enquirer.

“This is a major improvement in the equation,” Garth says. “It turns out that overall fame doesn’t matter as much as the flavor of the fame. It’s tabloid fame that dooms you. Sure, Katie Holmes had about 160 Enquirer hits, but she had more than twice as many NYT hits. A high NYT/ENQ ratio also explains why Chelsea Clinton and Kate Middleton have better chances than the Kardashian sisters.”

Garth’s new analysis shows that it’s the wife’s fame that really matters. While the husband’s NYT/ENQ ratio is mildly predictive, the effect is so much weaker than the wife’s that it’s not included in the new equation. Nor are some variables from the old equation, like the number of previous marriages and the age gap between husband and wife.

…“Research has documented that women who wear skimpy or sexually provocative clothing tend to be higher on the trait of narcissism,” says Dr. Buss, a psychologist at the University of Texas. “My research on married couples found that 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.”

Sexual infidelity is also an excellent strategy for a narcissistic celebrity to get attention from the tabloids. And while the tabloids are happy to go after cheaters of either sex, Dr. Buss says that that research into marriage longevity shows there’s still a double standard: “Sexual infidelity by women is statistically more likely to lead to marital breakup than sexual infidelity by men.”

Of course, correlation doesn’t mean causation, says Betsey Stevenson, an economist at Penn who has studied marital longevity. “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.”

Either way, we can still use these variables to make predictions. (For a full list, go to nytimes.com/science.) The good news is that, aided by long courtships, a few couples have a better-than-even chance of lasting at least 15 years: Kate and Prince William, Calista Flockhart and Harrison Ford, Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky, and Beyoncé Knowles and Jay-Z.

Many others are likely to split between their 5th and 15th anniversaries (including Tom and Katie, now in their sixth year), and some aren’t likely to make it that long. After he crunched the numbers, Garth’s advice to Jessica Simpson and Ms. Spears is to avoid marriage anytime soon. And he doesn’t hold out much long-term hope for a Kardashian sister married to a pro basketball luminary.

“I’ve calculated the chance of Khloe Kardashian and Lamar Odom celebrating their golden anniversary,” he says, “Even when I extend it to 15 decimal places, the probability is still zero.”