Divorce statistics are greatly exaggerated

It’s often said that 50% of marriages end in divorce.  A new book says that the real number is between 20% and 25%.  For churchgoers, the rate is somewhere in the single digits or teens.

The author of The Good News about Marriage, Shaunti Feldhahn, says that hopelessness–which is nurtured by the discouraging but wrong statistics about marriage–is itself a major reason for divorce.  Actually, the institution of marriage is not in as bad a shape as people assume it is. [Read more…]

More bogus divorce statistics

We all have heard that the divorce rate is higher in the so-called Bible Belt states than elsewhere.  Also that the divorce rate in conservative “red” states is higher than in liberal “blue” states.  But now Australian Mark Richardson has taken a closer look at those statistics:

In August of this year, the US Census Bureau released a report on divorce rates in the different states of America. It was widely reported in the media that people were more likely to divorce in the Bible Belt states than in the liberal northeast.

At the time I accepted the statistics. I believed that people in the northeast were less likely to marry as teenagers and more likely to have higher incomes and higher education and that this explained the difference. . . .

But then I came across another statistic, namely that 28% of those divorced identified as conservative, 33% as moderate and 37% as liberal. It didn’t make sense. If those in the liberal states have the lowest rate of divorce, then why do those who identify as liberal have a much higher rate of divorce?

So I went back to the original source. And to my surprise I found that the divorce statistics had been misrepresented in most of the mainstream media. It turns out that what was being compared was the number of divorces per 1000 people in each state rather than the number of divorces per 1000 married couples:

Rates throughout this report count the marital events reported in the past 12 months per 1,000 men or women in the population 15 and older. (p.2)

That wouldn’t be significant if roughly the same number of people got married in each US state. But that’s not the case. There is a much lower rate of marriage in the liberal north-east of the US:

…the states with the lowest marriage rates for men in 2009 tended to be in the Northeast. Maine and New Jersey were among the states with low marriage rates with 13.5 and 14.8 marriages per 1,000 men. Maine and New Jersey also had low marriage rates per 1,000 women, with 12.2 and 13.3 marriages, respectively. (p.4)

…Twelve of the thirteen states where men had marriage rates below the U.S. average were located east of the Mississippi River. (p.5)

In comparison, a state like Wyoming had a marriage rate of 28.7 – that’s more than double the rate in Maine.

So you might expect states with a higher rate of marriage to also have a higher rate of divorce. And that’s how a representative of the Census Bureau explained the statistics:

Divorce rates tend to be higher in the South because marriage rates are also higher in the South,” said Diana Elliott, a family demographer at the Census Bureau. “In contrast, in the Northeast, first marriages tend to be delayed and the marriage rates are lower, meaning there are also fewer divorces.”

That is the key quote. The demographer responsible for the statistics is explaining in the plainest of English why the divorce rate is lower in the north-east. It is because in the liberal north-east people are less likely to be married in the first place.

via Oz Conservative: Do liberal states in the US really have lower divorce rates?.

HT: Joe Carter


Did you realize that one state in the union still requires an actual reason to get a divorce, as opposed to the no-fault divorces practiced everywhere else?  That state is liberal, progressive, sophisticated New York.  But now that is about to change.  Notice how New Yorkers have been getting around the current law so far:

There are certain to be consequences if New York State introduces no-fault divorce, as now seems likely. The divorce rate might climb. Matrimonial battles will focus on bitter issues like support and child custody. The poor will be able to get divorced as easily as the rich. But there is something else. Those who are splitting up can just tell the truth.

Justice Jeffrey S. Sunshine of State Supreme Court in Brooklyn said some of the old law seemed like a throwback to the 19th century and invaded divorce-seeker’s privacy.

For decades, New York State’s divorce system has been built on a foundation of winks and falsehoods. If you wanted to split quickly, you and your spouse had to give one of the limited number of allowable reasons — including adultery, cruelty, imprisonment or abandonment — so there was a tendency to pick one out of a hat.

Pregnant women have insisted they have not had sex in a year, one of the existing grounds; spouses claimed psychological cruelty for getting called fat; and people whose affairs have made Page Six have denied adultery. One legendary ploy involved listing the filing lawyer’s secretary as the partner in adultery (which may even have been true in a few cases).

“What the fault divorce system has done is that it has institutionalized perjury,” said Malcolm S. Taub, a veteran Manhattan matrimonial lawyer. “This play-acting goes on and everybody looks the other way and follows the script.”

On Tuesday, the State Senate approved a bill that would permit divorce without a claim that either side is at fault, and on Wednesday the State Assembly Speaker, Sheldon Silver, said his members were discussing the details of similar legislation. “I support the concept,” Mr. Silver said.

via New Divorce Law Would Allow Couples to Tell the Truth – NYTimes.com.

HT to tODD for alerting me to this development.   I’ll share our conversation:

As with many Christians, I have frequently lamented the state of marriage in the US, with its high divorce rate. Many Christians typically decry the role of "no-fault" divorce in bringing this on. And I typically assumed that was true. But if this article is right,
I'm not so sure about that anymore. If the divorce rate isn't actually hindered by current NY law, and all it adds is a requirement that people lie (and perjure themselves!) in order to get a divorce, is that actually better than just implementing no-fault divorce? Or is this just an argument made by those who don't see divorce as bad in the first place?

ME:  I didn’t realize there was a state that didn’t have no-fault divorce! As Irecall, though, New York has had a lower divorce rate than less “liberal” states. Maybe that’s a reason.

tODD:  Apparently New York is the only state left (according to Wikipedia).
Fascinating. South Dakota went no-fault in 1985. New York! Who'd'a thunk?
I tried to look up divorce rates per state (which data is easily
available), but as many people will inevitably point out, those data
are misleading, as they count divorces per capita (or, typically, per
1000 people), which tends to miss the point that marriage rates are
not consistent across states.

I found this document from the CDC: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr57/nvsr57_19.pdf
Which would be useful, except (a) you have to calculate the
divorce-per-marriage rate yourself by hand, and (b) it's missing the
divorce numbers from several states, notably California.

Based on that, I whipped up the attached Excel spreadsheet, in which I
chose about half the states. Now, I happen to think the Nevada number
is bunk, and it likely points out a problem with the methodology --
people who get married in one state don't necessarily live there,
especially when it comes to Nevada (while people who get divorced in a
state presumably DO live there).

Regardless, it is fascinating to note that New York has a respectably
low (well, as such) rate with 42% of marriages ending in divorce
(though not as low as gay-marriage Massachusetts, which has 39%,
almost the same as Utah!). On the other hand, Mississippi's 83%
divorce rate is jaw-dropping. I can't find any commonality between the
states at either end, though, which is interesting in itself.

tODD (later): 
Sorry, Dr. Veith, but your beloved Oklahoma clocks in
at #3 when it comes to divorces per marriage (just under 72%). Oof.

Here are the top 10 worst states (that I could calculate):
Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Delaware,
Washington, Arizona, Colorado, Michigan, and Kentucky

And here are the top 10 best states (that I could calculate, not
including Nevada for the aforementioned reasons):
South Carolina, Utah, Iowa, Massachusetts, South Dakota, DC, New York,
Vermont, Tennessee, and Illinois.

Honestly, can you see any pattern there? Urban/rural?
Conservative/liberal? North/south? I can't make any sort of
generalizations from this data.

I would add that divorce rates are usually related to income and social class, with poorer people (like those in Mississippi) getting divorced more often than affluent people (like those in Massachusetts).  Still, there is much to puzzle about here. But why should Mississippi have such a high rate while culturally and economically similar Tennessee has such a low rate?  Can anyone make sense of this?

Some are calling for doing away with no-fault divorce laws as a way to discourage divorce.  Yes, if people will lie, that’s one thing, but I don’t believe the state of New York was actually enforcing its no-fault–or its perjury– laws.  Can laws help cut down the number of divorces?  What will?

Abortion rates in red states & blue states

Michael Barone gives a state-by-state breakdown of abortion rates. He concludes that there is a pretty strong correlation between the way a state votes and its abortion rates, with liberal states having lots of abortions and conservative states having fewer. That may seem obvious, and yet other correlations break down, with conservative states often having higher divorce rates than liberal states:

Roe v. Wade imposed the same legal abortion regime on the entire nation and made abortion a national political issue. Yet Americans in different regions and states have in effect established very different behavioral abortion regimes. Abortion is very common in New York (abortion rate of 38.2) and New Jersey (34.3), only about half as common in Illinois (18.9) and Texas (17.3), and lower in South Carolina (7.9) and Utah (6.4). Cultural liberals have noted that divorce rates are relatively low in some politically liberal states like Massachusetts and relatively high in some politically conservative states like Oklahoma. But abortion rates seem highly correlated with cultural attitudes and with, at least during the time that abortion has been a major political issue, voting behavior.

What are we to conclude from this? That abortion makes for happier marriages? That divorced women are refusing to get abortions? Or what?

HT: Joe Carter