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Five years later they followed up 1,074 of the couples to see which had separated.Using the data collected about their age, education, nationality and previous relationships, they found the factors that many of those who broke up had in common.

With age, they found that if the wife is five or more years older than her husband, they are more than three times as likely to divorce than if they were the same age.

The research, called Optimising The Marriage Market, appeared in the European Journal Of Operational Research, which usually analyses business decisions.

Academics including Dr Emmanuel Fragnière of the University of Bath studied interviews with 1,534 Swiss couples who were either married or in a serious relationship.

Analysis of the data showed that the most stable couples were – unsurprisingly – those who had never divorced.

But couples who have both previously been through a break-up are only marginally less secure.

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According to the study, the couples with the best chance are those where a woman with a superior education marries a man who is five or more years older than herself. By comparison, a marriage where a woman partners an equally poorly educated male divorcee who is five or more years her junior is up to five times more likely to fail.

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