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Britain's Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, stand outside of Westminster Abbey after their Royal Wedding in London on April 29, 2011. (Martin Meissner/Martin Meissner/AP)
Britain's Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, stand outside of Westminster Abbey after their Royal Wedding in London on April 29, 2011. (Martin Meissner/Martin Meissner/AP)

Can a mathematical formula predict which celebrity unions will last? Add to ...

A science writer for The New York Times and a self-described uber-geek have created an equation to answer that most important of questions: Will a celebrity couple last?

John Tierney, who writes the Findings column for the newspaper, and Garth Sundem, author of Brain Trust: 93 Top Scientists Reveal Lab-Tested Secrets to Surfing, Dating, Dieting, Gambling, Growing Man-Eating Plants and More!, created a similar equation in 2006. Variables included level of fame and marital track records.

It correctly predicted the splits of Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher; Pamela Anderson and Kid Rock; and Britney Spears and Kevin Federline. It also predicted that Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith will not make it to their 15th anniversary, which the couple will celebrate this December, assuming recent rumours of their marital woes don’t dash that date.

Problems existed with the hold equation, however, and refinements were demanded in the name of science, clearly.

Whereas the previous equation measured fame by number of Google hits, the new one uses a ratio of the number of times a celebrity has been mentioned in the Times divided by the number of mentions in the National Enquirer.

“This is a major improvement in the equation,” Mr, Sundem wrote in the Times. “It turns out that overall fame doesn’t matter as much as the flavour of the fame. It’s tabloid fame that dooms you.”

Other crucial variables in the new equation include the spouses’ combined age (younger couples typically head to splitsville sooner), length of the courtship (a slow burn is better) and, finally, the sex symbol factor, which – and this is science at its best – is defined as the number of Google hits showing the wife “in clothing designed to elicit libidinous intent.”

So, who has science on their side? According to the new equation, Prince William and Kate Middleton have a 71 per cent chance of lasting 15 years; Jay-Z and Beyoncé Knowles have a 55 per cent chance; and Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner have only a nine per cent chance of celebrating their 15th anniversary.

And for those of us without any mentions in the Times or the National Enquirer? Social scientists are just as interested in determining what will, or will not, make our marriages last.

In a groundbreaking study conducted by Ted Huston, a professor of human ecology and psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, a couple’s first two years of marriage were found to have the biggest impact on a relationship’s longevity.

It wasn’t conflict and bickering that tore couples apart, but instead the loss of love and affection.

“The dominant approach has been to work with couples to resolve conflict,” Prof. Huston told Psychology Today, “but it should focus on preserving the positive feelings.”

Since Dr. Huston’s findings were published more than a decade ago, researchers have continued to poke and prod marriages from every angle. Many of the results are not surprising (couples who have fun together stay together) while other findings have been less intuitive, such as various research looking in to how likely you are to divorce if you are married to a smoker or have a daughter and not a son.

Another important lesson from Prof. Huston’s research? Emotional stability is also a key predictor: Couples passionately devoted to one another as newlyweds are most likely to divorce, because those emotional highs often can’t be maintained, and when the crash comes, well, you get the idea.

As Psychology Today noted “Believe it or not, marriages that start out with less ‘Hollywood romance’ usually have more promising futures.”

What do you think of such relationship research? Can science really predict which marriages are going to last?

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Follow on Twitter: @Dave_McGinn

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