What epidemic is that?

October 3, 2008

Divorce is an epidemic this nation must address. Children of divorce are much more likely to have all sorts of problems. Drastic government action is called for.

Well, hold on there a sec, Bucko:

That’s partly because the divorce rate is dropping—and has been for some 25 years. The oft-repeated statistic that one in two marriages ends up in divorce isn’t exactly right. It’s based on the annual marriage rate per 1,000 people, compared with the annual divorce rate. In 2005, the marriage rate was 7.5 per 1,000 people, while the divorce rate was 3.6 per 1,000, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. But since the people who get married in any given year usually are not the same people who get divorced (OK, maybe a few), the statistic isn’t very meaningful. Even if you look at divorces among married couples, the rate has declined from a peak of 22.8 divorces per 1,000 in 1979 to 16.7 divorces in 2005.

Thanks to later marriages, smaller families, longer life expectancy and the fact that unhappy couples tend to divorce faster than they used to, the number of children affected by each divorce is also shrinking. In 1968, the average divorce affected 1.34 kids, according to Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, both assistant professors at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. By 1995, that number was 0.91, about the same level as 1950. And in general, divorce rates are lowest among those with a college degree, according to Stevenson. She thinks that may be because educated women tend to marry later, and the older you are when you get married, the more durable your marriage seems to be.

This doesn’t mean much at the micro level. Divorced couples have all the problems that have been documented, whether they have a lot of company or a little. Those who deal with all the problems the children of divorce have need to focus on that mission, getting whatever help they can from the larger community.

But it matters a lot on the macro level. Majaor public initiatives — such as greater federal involvement in day care — can be advanced based on statistics, and if the statistics are wrong — “Half of marriages end in divorce!” — then the initiatives will be wong, and money that could have been better spent elsewhere will be misspent.


One Response to “What epidemic is that?”

  1. Larry Morris Says:

    Help me out here, … in the first quoted paragraph, it mentions “In 2005, the marriage rate was 7.5 per 1,000 people, while the divorce rate was 3.6 per 1,000”. Then just a couple of sentences later “the rate has declined from a peak of 22.8 divorces per 1,000 in 1979 to 16.7 divorces in 2005”. Both these quotes mention the divorce rate, so I think they are referring to the same stat, and both reference the same year, 2005, but the first says the rate is 3.6 per thousand, and the second says 16.7. No wonder this is a confusing issue, …

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