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Thursday, June 29, 2006

Divorce
It's hard as hell to figure out the real picture of divorce in this country. Overall, divorce rates are going down, as would be expected as the boomers have aged and finally decided who they plan to die with. But the most important thing to understand about divorce is that the whole "50% of marriages end in divorce" thing is a myth. Also see here, or here, or the Wiki

The problem is that the statistics that caused the concern were misread. In the 70s and 80s people were seeing twice as many people getting divorced as getting married and thought, holy shit the divorce rate is 50%! No one took into account the 15-20 year lag it takes many marriages to blow up, so as the boomers started getting divorced in the 70s-80s for the first time it looked like there was a major increase because of their population boom combined with their slightly higher rate of divorce. However, when one takes into account rates of divorce the boomers represent only a minor increase in divorce rates to about 40% throughout the 80s with the percentage of marriages ending in divorce these days at around 30%.

And despite the buzz that divorce is at epidemic proportions, the NCHS report shows that the divorce rate has, in fact, been slowly declining since its perilous peak in 1981, when it reached a rate of 5.3 divorces per 1,000 people.
...
according to the data currently available, in 2000 the divorce rate dropped to 4.1, the lowest since 1972, and lower than it was when the Greatest Generation returned from World War II in 1946.


The Wiki article has a similar statement:

In the United States, in 2003 there were 7.5 new marriages per 1000 people and 3.8 divorces per 1000, a ratio which has existed for many individual years since the 1960s. As many statisticians have pointed out, virtually none of the marriages taking place in a given year are the same couples divorcing that year, so there is in fact no predictive relationship between the two annual totals. Nonetheless the claim that "half of all marriages end in divorce" became widely accepted in the US in the 1970s, on the basis of this statistic, and has remained conventional wisdom. Pollster Lewis Harris in his 1987 book "Inside America" wrote that "the idea that half of American marriages are doomed is one of the most specious pieces of statistical nonsense ever perpetuated in modern times."

To establish an actual divorce rate requires tracking and analyzing significant samples of actual marriages through decades, not an easy task. Recent US scholarship based on such longterm tracking, reported for example in the New York Times on April 19, 2005, has found that about 60 percent of all marriages that result in divorce do so in the first decade, and more than 80 percent do so within the first 20 years; that the percentage of all marriages that eventually end in divorce peaked in the United States at about 41 percent around 1980 and has been slowly declining ever since, standing by 2002 at around 31 percent; and that while in the 1960s and 1970s there was little difference among socioeconomic groups in divorce rates, diverging trends appeared starting around 1980 (e.g. the rate of divorce among college graduates had by 2002 dropped to near 20 percent, roughly half that of non-college graduates).


So my friends, why do I care? Why do I bother mentioning this issue even though it hasn't really been in the news lately? Well, for a couple of reasons. One is jackasses like Rush Limbaugh who bitch about family values, and say stupid shit like marriage should only be for procreation when he is a childless three-time divorcee visiting prositutes in foreign countries with illegal Viagra prescriptions. The second reason is, some guy wrote me an email and asked me what a give up map of divorce would look like. Well, here's your answer.



This is a map of the states with divorce rates greater than 4 per thousand (excluding California, and Indiana and using 2002-2003 data for 2 other states that didn't report in 2004), the national average is somewhere between 3.7 and 4.1 depending on who you ask or whether you throw an estimate of California's rate in since they haven't reported a rate since 1990. The other key thing to remember is that divorce rates are falling in all states, by about 10% since the 90s. So, if California were included today based on its 1990 statistics it would probably now be well under 4, so don't let that worry you too much.

All the same, look at where divorce is actually a problem, in a nice band across the bible belt. The states with the lowest divorce rates? Massachusetts, Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Wisconsin have divorce rates that range from 1.8-3.0 per 1,000. The blue states included are in just barely at around 4.1-4.3 per 1,000. The highest two are Nevada at 6.3 and Arkansas at 6.1, over three times the rate of liberal Massachusetts. And even more interesting is the Barna survey done in 1999 showed that of all religious groups, Baptists and non-denominational Christians were the most likely to get divorced, surpassing all those evil heathen religions, Catholics and atheists. And where do the Baptists live? Well, largely in the areas highlighted in the above map.

So, while the moral majority might like spending all their time telling others how to live, and determining who should be allowed to get married while passing stupid-ass covenant marriage laws, let's keep an eye on who really has the problem making marriages work (not to mention every other damn thing). Further, while they rail on about the myth of the 50% divorce rate, and how evil divorce is, let's think about what a world would look like without divorce. Unlike our delusional conservative friends, I don't want go back to when women would have to stay married to cheating, emotionally distant, and/or abusive man or face economic ruin. I think things are going just fine with marriage these days, especially in the blue states.

Source:Munson ML, Sutton PD. Births, marriages, divorces, and deaths: Provisional data for 2004. National vital statistics reports; vol 53 no 21. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2005. Census data from 2004 was used for rates from www.census.gov.

11 Comments:

fidelity said...

Great article. I agree with your points entirely. TrueMarriage.net has a lot of this stuff and is trying to combat divorce.

Things are not as bad as some say, but worse than some say in other ways. You accurately note that people want marriage.

It is the case that too many marriages are ending in divorce and we need to get better at this.

10:41 AM, June 29, 2006

 
Anonymous said...

This is still not entirely correct.

The rate of divorce per total people married is your correct likely around 40%. However the younger generations in the USA are already by statistic at 30% before most have reached 30 years of age.

That makes it a virtual certainty that they will achieve 40+% as they age and more of their amrriages fail.

1:26 PM, June 29, 2006

 
Anonymous said...

Not to mention the fact that there are less people actually marrying in the first place a natural reason for the divorce rate to go down.

1:28 PM, June 29, 2006

 
Anonymous said...

And you excluded these items:
' Still, that's nothing to brag about. And, as Richert indicated, the rate is rising as the older, more stable marriages die off. In the years ahead, a 50-percent divorce rate isn't unthinkable.

"If enough factors held constant for long enough, it probably would get close to 50 percent," Barna says, though he's not ready to concede that we're close to that yet. And neither is Mattox. '

For the last generation it has been around 1 in 2. Now as these folks get a stable amrriage it will go down but the numbers of people who HAVE been divorced will still be about 1 in 2.

But likely will have a successful marriage at some point.

But is seems 30-40% of all marriages including the seniors is about right. But if you polled the number who ahd been divorced I think the number would be higher.

1:46 PM, June 29, 2006

 
Rev. Dr. said...

That is why the NYT article linked to in the Wiki is interesting. It actually samples marriages and determines their rate of dissolution. It's much lower than any of these figures. Now, marriage is down in rates, but that's only because the millenials haven't started in yet. People keep reading false trends into what are actually population fluctuations. Once the millenials are well into their 20s (as they are now are starting to hit) we'll see another increase in the marriage and divorce rates.

The point is that rates of marriage and divorce are misleading because of the variable amount of time between the two events. When you actually track marriages and their rates of dissolution by surcey the results are much lower, and certainly not the 60% that people like Oprah and the 24 hour networks were bemoaning about a year ago.

1:55 PM, June 29, 2006

 
Anonymous said...

I'd guess that the Bible Belt has more divorces because it has more marriages. Lots of people getting married at age 18 (because pre-marital sex is *wrong*, you know?) then getting divorced a few years later (with kids, because God forbids birth control).

Vs. blue-state or maybe just *urban* people shacking up and splitting up, with a similar pattern of trial relationships but without the legal fees or single motherhood.

Anyone have confirming data?

4:38 PM, June 29, 2006

 
Rev. Dr. said...

Marriage rates present a bit of a pickle.

One major problem is that while people often divorce in their state of residence, they often travel to get married, which explains why Nevada has a marriage rate 10 times higher than would be expected for their population. Hawaii and other places get a big boost here.

I could direct you to the map at statemaster that's the closest thing to an answer, describing the number of marrieds in each state. In that case Utah wins for sheer number of married familes, which may explain it's conclusion, but the overall spread of the data is pretty tight within about 10% points, from 46-57% for most states.

Now, this spread fails to explain, completely and totally, how Massachusetts could have a rate one third of that of Alabama, because there are not 3x as many married couples. It could explain differences of about 5-10% not 300%.

4:58 PM, June 29, 2006

 
Anonymous said...

Thanks for the statemaster link!
The same site just gives a spread of 2x, not 3x, between Alabama and Mass. That's still bigger than the marriage rate spread. Might be demographic complications, might be more Alabama marriages really breaking up. Which could still be related to Mass. being more willing to "live in sin", so the people who actually choose marriage are more likely to be stable.

Now if someone could measure adultery rates as well. :)

6:48 PM, June 29, 2006

 
Rev. Dr. said...

Given the percent of marriages isn't that different between Mass and Alabama, it's not likely that it's just people who live in sin.

Also, the reason the statemaster statistics are slightly different is that the data is from 2002. Mine is newer, from 2004.

8:39 PM, June 29, 2006

 
Anonymous said...

You sound credible until you decide to attribute the "facts" to some very biased opinions about who lives where, which news/entertainment personalities say what, etc. You obviously are coloring your facts in as biased a way and the people to whom you attribute bias. Too bad.

10:33 AM, April 10, 2007

 
Anonymous said...

What is the average age a person marries in Mass. vs. Alabama?

4:32 PM, May 03, 2007

 

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