Statistician Gareth Sundem has devised an equation that predicts, with pretty fair accuracy, the shelf life of a celebrity marriage. He explains to Bob how it works.
BOB GARFIELD: A few years ago, statistician Garth Sundem and journalist John Tierney published an equation that predicted the shelf life of a celebrity marriage. Love is complicated and, appropriately, the equation included a lot of variables, like each member of the couple’s amount of fame, their relative level of attractiveness, the length of their courtship, et cetera, et cetera.
But recently, Sundem and Tierney announced that they’d found a way to make their formula simpler and more accurate. They decided to focus on just five factors. The first two seem obvious, months spent dating and combined ages at times of marriage. The third is a little surprising, the amount of skin the bride shows on the first page of her Google Image results. The fourth and fifth, Garth Sundem explains, involve a very simple metric to measure the quality of the bride’s media attention, and consequently, the duration of marital bliss.
GARTH SUNDEM: The ratio of her mentions in The New York Times to her mentions in The Enquirer. It doesn’t matter how few or how many total Google hits they have, if the flavor of her fame is tabloid fame, then it predicts a short marriage.
BOB GARFIELD: How are you doing [LAUGHS] with the newly formulated “unified theory?”
GARTH SUNDEM: Some of the predicted long couples – Chelsea Clinton and Mark Mezvinsky – she has stayed surprisingly out of The Enquirer while getting a ton of New York Times mentions. They have a 52.7 percent chance of making it 15 years.
BOB GARFIELD: Which is, I should observe, greater than the general population.
GARTH SUNDEM: Fifty-two point seven percent chance of making it 15 years on this celebrity marriage [LAUGHS] list puts them among the all-stars, who also include Kate Middleton and Prince William. Now, she’s been in the tabloids a ton, but she’s balanced it out with New York Times mentions, and they’ve been dating since college, and that predicts marital longevity to the tune of 64.3 percent to make it 15 years.
Also, Beyoncé Knowles and Jay-Z are an extremely strong couple, based mostly on the fact that they’ve dated [LAUGHS] forever. So that’s the top of the list. Those are the couples to beat in celebrity marriage.
BOB GARFIELD: Okay. So I have this image: It is the year 2073.
GARTH SUNDEM: Okay.
BOB GARFIELD: We’re in an assisted living home on the West Coast of Florida, and – and, and I’m scanning the room, and I’m wondering who will I categorically not find there, together, that is?
GARTH SUNDEM: You won’t find Khloe Kardashian and Lamar Odom. The flavor of her fame is terrible. They’re young. They didn’t date very long before getting married. I give them exactly zero percent chance [LAUGHING] of making it 15 years.
BOB GARFIELD: And yet?
GARTH SUNDEM: And yet, 30-plus months, and still KK and Lamar Odom continue on. They are currently defying the laws of man, nature and mathematics, and good for them.
BOB GARFIELD: Okay. [LAUGHS] I want to ask you about Brangelina-
GARTH SUNDEM: Yeah.
BOB GARFIELD: - because they have been together a long time, but-
GARTH SUNDEM: But not married.
BOB GARFIELD: Although I’m told they’re engaged. Oh, yes.
GARTH SUNDEM: Oh yes.
BOB GARFIELD: What’s gonna happen with them?
GARTH SUNDEM: Okay. Let’s go back into the past, into the days just after the Aniston split.
BOB GARFIELD: I, I’m sorry, I hate to do this but I have to jump in here to say that the Aniston split is not some sort of like statistical constant. It’s a reference to Jennifer Aniston and Brad–
GARTH SUNDEM: Yes.
BOB GARFIELD: - Pitt breaking up.
GARTH SUNDEM: Yes. Neither is it a dessert.
BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS]
GARTH SUNDEM: If Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt had married just after [LAUGHS] the Aniston split, they would have had a one percent chance of making it 15 years. The flavor of her fame at that point was very tabloid-heavy. She had smoking-hot Google Image hits. And they were both a little younger and they hadn’t dated very long. Now, if they got married this month they would have a 51 percent chance of making it 15 years.
Now, here’s why, and this is kind of cool. Angelina Jolie’s Google Image hits are now much more cocktail dress than lingerie. So the overt sexiness of her Google Image hits is down. She’s gotten a lot of legit press. She is mentioned 1,083 times in The New York Times compared to 378 times in The Enquirer, which is a pretty darn good ratio.
BOB GARFIELD: All right dude, I got one more question for you. Even though we’re talking about celebrities –
GARTH SUNDEM: Yeah.
BOB GARFIELD: - they’re still, arguably, human beings.
GARTH SUNDEM: Yes.
BOB GARFIELD: Do you find yourself — when your predictions are on the verge of coming to naught, do you find yourself rooting for a breakup?
GARTH SUNDEM: [LAUGHS]
BOB GARFIELD: Do you find yourself –
GARTH SUNDEM: Okay –
BOB GARFIELD: - lingering in the checkout aisle?
GARTH SUNDEM: No!
BOB GARFIELD: Come on.
GARTH SUNDEM: So, first of all, I will say that this is correlative and not causative. So far I have been unable to influence the duration [LAUGHS] of a celebrity marriage. Oh, do I root for people to break up? No. No, I can’t do that. I, I root for them to beat my math. It just doesn’t happen.
BOB GARFIELD: Garth, I want to thank you, not only for joining us, but just for your work.
GARTH SUNDEM: I know. I hope I could shine some light and bring some meaning to some lives around the country and, and the world, really.
BOB GARFIELD: Well, you’ve touched one man, I’m gonna tell you that. Garth Sundem is the author of Brain Trust: 93 Top Scientists Reveal Lab-Tested Secrets to Surfing, Dating, Diet and Gambling, Growing Man-Eating Plants, and More!
[MUSIC UP AND UNDER]
That’s it for this week’s show. On the Media was produced by Jamie York, Alex Goldman, PJ Vogt, Sarah Abdurraham and Chris Neary, with more help from Rob Schoon and Luisa Beck, and edited — by Brooke. Our technical director is Jennifer Munson. Our engineer this week was Andrew Dunn.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Katya Rogers is our senior producer. Ellen Horn is WNYC’s senior director of National Programs. Bassist composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. On the Media is produced by WNYC and distributed by NPR. I’m Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I’m Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And Bob, judging from the amount of skin in your Google Image results, this marriage isn’t long for this world.
BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] Thank God [LAUGHING], thank God.