Trade Up Syndrome

Is it possible that there is one single question you could ask a newly engaged woman that could predict the success of their upcoming marriage? Read on…

In 1988, 200 newlywed brides were carefully selected to participate in a clinical study. To participate they had to have never been married and received a newly purchased engagement ring during their prenuptials. There were 68 participants ages 19-29, 66 participants age 30-39 and 66 participants ages 40-49. In each age group there were approximately the same numbers of Whites, African-Americans, Asian-Pacific Islanders and Hispanics. Each group also was purposely compiled having the same number of people with certain educational attainments. (Less than high school, high school graduate, some college, bachelors degree and more).

The participants were all asked the following question:


Fifty four percent of the women replied no and 46% replied yes. After the question was asked and answered they were purposely misinformed that the reasoning behind the question was to help men in choosing the perfect engagement ring. They were told that men would be advised that if they believed their “fiance to be” was in the 54% group then they should opt for a larger diamond (something she could grow into) since she was going to be wearing it for the rest of their life. The men who believed their new bride would opt to “trade up” should buy smaller since this wasn’t the “forever” diamond, but a stand-in until the permanent replacement or replacements would follow down the line. The participants were asked to keep in touch if they were going to move because the interviewers wanted to see if their attitudes changed as the years went on. Anyone who disagreed with the ground rules was replaced with a like person. It was agreed that all the participants’ names and information would be kept confidential.

Unbeknown to the participants, the study was not designed to study behavioral patterns in size preferences, but to track marital success rates. Interestingly enough, no correlation could be found on the way the question was answered due to any particular age, ethnicity or educational background. Just as many in each group was on either side of the fence on the question. Those in the 54% group had the same mantra, “No one’s taking my diamond! This diamond is priceless! I don’t care if you got a 10ct diamond in your hand to give me, it can’t replace the sentimental attachment this diamond has to me. I know it’s not perfect or the biggest rock on the block but its mine. My symbol! My love! My eternal love! I can tell you to the last detail everything about the day I received it. What my man said, where we were, what song was on the radio and the first person we told. Nope, I’m sorry if the deal that’s on the table is I only get the new one by giving up old faithful you can forget about it. Now if you’re saying I can keep my old diamond and introduce it to a new friend well, now, maybe we can talk. My diamond has said to me a couple of times it gets lonely.”

The 46% group was pretty adamant on their side too! “Are you kidding?! Where’s the recycle bin?! If bigger and better comes along, you take it! Look, you don’t keep the first house you ever get. If I want a memory, I’ll take a picture! Where’s my new ring?”

Not being a clinical psychiatrist myself I was curious what predictions a top, board-certified psychiatrist might have as to which group (the 54% romantics, the 46% materialistics) would have a better chance at happily ever after wedded bliss. Dr. Frank Montalvo M.D. Ph.D. predicted that after 15 years the materialistic group would be pummeled with divorce. Prediction: 15-18% would still be around to celebrate another anniversary and 82-85% would have already been through divorce court.

Prediction: The romantic group would stave off divorce far better. His prediction was that approximately 80% would still be together with 20% having left for greener pastures.

Five Year Mark
At the five year mark it appears that the doctor is barking up the wrong tree. The romantic group has suffered approximately a 10% divorce rate and the materialistic group a 9.8% divorce rate. At this point there appears to be no discernible differences between the groups. The materialistic group is not on course to do any better or worse based on their numbers.

Ten Year Mark
By the ten year mark something unexpected happened. The romantics’ divorce rate had slowed down and the materialistics had raced forward. Fifty-two percent of those that would trade in were now divorced and 16% of the romantics, were divorced. While there had been a 60% increase of the romantics to divorce the materialistics numbers had increased five fold!

Fifteen Year Mark
When the final numbers came in I was dumfounded, and in awe of Doctor Montalvo’s remarkable, almost psychic ability to nail his predictions. Eighty one percent of the group that said they would gladly upgrade were now divorced while their apparently overly romantic counterparts enjoyed a 78% martial success rate! The only question that I had now was why? “The answer is quite simple,” said Dr. Frank Montalvo. “There are a great many of us, to put it bluntly that don’t like ourselves. They use the trappings of success as a cloak to disguise this disdain that they have to try to make themselves feel better. Selfishness is another reason. People that are always asking what’s in it for me with little regard for others, tend to make a poor mate.”

Finally, we have found that if a person is hard-wired to up-grade their ring for a bigger and better one; their car for a bigger and better one; their house for a bigger and better one; it is not too much of a reach to see that if a bigger or better mate comes along they won’t think twice about trading him or her in either!

Final Thoughts
Interestingly, as the years went by each of the participants were asked if they would reconsider their original decision. By the 15th year 79.1% of the romantics who said they would never consider trading in their original diamond had actually now reconsidered. While their emotional attachment towards their original rock was still quite high, they felt that it no longer represented who they were now. Many of them opted for new mountings (platinum settings) and others traded in the whole thing. (Half of the 79.1% kept and retired their old ring to be passed down to the next generation while the other half waved it goodbye.)

It appeared there was not an actual connection between trading in or upgrading the original ring. It was the initial belief that they could see themselves easily trading in the ring from the beginning that turned out to be the fly in the ointment. In other words, it signaled a lack of commitment.
The final head scratcher I pondered is, of the 22% of the original romantics that ended up in divorce, 97.4% never wavered on their original answer. Is it possible that a bride or groom that was unwilling to change their attitudes ended up stagnating in their relationship because they tried to hold on so desperately to that original love without allowing it to grow and mature? I don’t have all the answers. But what I can tell you is this. In the end those that anticipated a change and those that refused to change ended up in the same place. Back where they started.

by Fred Cuellar the Diamond Guy
The founder and president of Diamond Cutters International, is one of the worlds top diamond experts, as well as a three-time Guinness Book record holder in jewelry design.
Fred The Diamond Guy
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