THE MYTH OF THE FIFTY-PERCENT DIVORCE RATE


My Friends…

Please read and give me your take on this excerpt from one of my library items. All attributes to Michael Medved. It has always been said thinking is work. Michael has done his work.

Don’t dismiss this clear line of thought without reading it at least twice and taking a snooze afterward.

Read, ponder, and enjoy,

THE MYTH OF THE FIFTY-PERCENT DIVORCE RATE

The problem with this argument (aside from the inherent dangers of self-fulfilling prophecies) is that it is based on incorrect assumptions and ignores all available data – including straightforward statistics that show that the commonly accepted figure about the divorce rate is profoundly misleading.

The notion that every marriage has a 50-percent chance of failure is so deeply ingrained in our national consciousness that even well informed and thoughtful observers seldom bother to quest it. The media has repeated this conclusion so frequently that it has taken on a life of its own – and justifying – the emphasis on marital dysfunction that turns up so frequently in television and motion pictures.

According to responsibly statisticians, however, the claim that half of all marriages are bound to fail has never been justified, and stems from simplistic misreading of the numbers. Veteran pollster, Louis Harris, for instance, cites the rock-solid figures compiled by the U.S. Center for Health Statistics and declares that these facts “are directly contrary to the media’s loud proclamation that one out of every two marriages now will end in divorce.” In his 1987 book Inside America, Harris reports the shocking news that our best numbers show that only 10 percent of all ever-married men, 13 percent of all ever-married women have ever been divorced. As he concludes, this in turn means that almost 90 percent of all marriages survive.” 

The difference between this 90-percent survival rate for marriage and the conventional wisdom claiming a 50-percent divorce rate is so enormous – and so enormously significant – that the contradiction requires some detailed explanation. This article can offer no more important contribution to the readers understanding of the huge gap between Hollywood’s vision and America’s reality than helping to clear away the confusion on this critically important matter. This means explaining how so many pundits can proclaim that half of all marriages fail – and how they can be so horribly wrong.

In 1981, the number of divorces in the United States hit an all-time record of 1,213,000. Marriages in that year totaled 2,422,000, so commentators eagerly jumped to the conclusion that half the marriages were bound to fail.

The logic in this leap is utterly lacking. Imagine that the number of divorces had risen even higher – that there had been 2,422,000 divorces and 2,422,000 marriages. Would this mean that 100 percent of marriages were doomed to failure?

Of course not. Calculating the divorce rate by comparing the number of marriages to the number of divorces in a single year is like computing the likelihood of dying by contrasting yearly births with yearly deaths. Lets say that the number of deaths in a given year is twice the number of births. Does this mean that your chances of dying are twice your chances of being born? If the situation is reversed, and the number of births is twice as large as the number of yearly deaths, does that mean that only half of all people will ever die?

Such calculations are meaningless because they ignore the fact that the huge majority of people neither die nor are born in a twelve-month period. By the same token, more that 98 percent go through a year without getting married, and without getting divorced. Their reality is in no way reflected in the facile comparisons of annual marriage/divorce statistics. As it happens, the overwhelming percentage of this 98 percent who are untouched by the annualized numbers are already married. And the statistics show that most of them will remain married for the rest of their lives.

The most simple questions provide the most direct answers. In a major 1991 survey for the Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company, the Washington D.C., polling firm Mellman and Lazarus concluded that only 15 percent of all American adults had ever been divorced– meaning that only 20 percent of those who had married had ever been divorced – numbers which coincide precisely with the raw data available from the 1990 census. Such figures are by now so well known to experts that they have even made it to the pages of Cosmopolitan magazine (March 1992) – a journal not normally noted for its fervent defense of hearth and home. In the course of an article on AIDS, Daniel Lynch supported the surprising news that American marriages stand a 90 percent chance of survival.

This arcane detour into the world of statistical analysis is necessary to understand the way that the numbers have been distorted by Hollywood and leading journalists to make divorce look like a far more prevalent practice than it really is.

In fact, the news on the marriage front is even better than this brief discussion reveals. Between 1981 and 1987, the number of marriages went up 3 percent nationwide while the number of divorces declined by 5 percent – the first time this has happened in modern times. On May 21, 1991, the National Center for Health Statistics published a summary of recent data on divorce and concluded: “The divorce rate per 1,000 population and the divorce rate per 1,000 women eighteen years of age and over both dropped for the third consecutive year. Both rates increased sharply in the 1970s, peaked in the late ‘70s and early 1980s, and have generally declined throughout the remainder of the 1980s” (italics added).”

Louis Harris concludes: “The evidence strongly suggests that marriage just might be making a strong comeback and divorce might be on the wane. Such a conclusion, of course, flies wildly in the face of all conventional wisdom.”

*The fact the most adults are already married rather than single further undermines “the 50-percent divorce rate” myth. Because two thirds of all adults are currently married, the pool available for divorce is much larger than the pool available for marriage. In other words, even if the amount of marriages and divorces were equal in a given year (which has never happened), it would mean that a much higher percentage of those eligible for marriage were, in fact, marrying than the percentage of those eligible for divorce who were, in fact, divorcing. This is especially true because such a significant percentage of those counted as single were actually elderly widows and widowers who are unlikely candidates for marriage. This means that even when the number of yearly divorces approaches 50 percent of the yearly marriages, a single individual is more than four times more likely to marryin the course of a given year than a married couple is likely to divorce.

Another problem in the statistics involves the common reality of one individual who divorces more than once. Those rare individuals who experience multiple divorces produce a huge and disproportionateimpact on the overall numbers. Imagine, for example, Elizabeth Taylor comes to a dinner party with six other individuals, all of whom have been married to the same partners all their lives. How do you calculate the divorce rate at that table? If you simply compare the number of marriages to the number of divorces, the divorce rate is 50% – a total of fourteen marriages and seven divorces. The fact is, however, than more than 85 percent of the people in the room have never been divorced. In other words, it takes six families like the folks down the block to balance one Liz Taylor in the raw divorce numbers.

Comments invited…

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About Gringo Bush Pilot

Retired process and systems manager; itinerant aviation devotee; and real estate investment loan officer. In short, an American economic refugee, retired in Asia.
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One Response to THE MYTH OF THE FIFTY-PERCENT DIVORCE RATE

  1. Pingback: Stanek weekend vid: Marriages more successful than thought

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