Thursday, May 20, 2010

Misleading Statistics?

An interesting article on deconstructing certain misleading statistics we're accustomed to hearing. Some of the articles recommended also debunk both conservative and liberal expectations about marriage.

For examples that conservatives might not like,
it turns out that the younger the couple is when they marry, the greater the likelihood of divorce. Also, Red States are actually more prone to divorce. For examples liberals might not like, gay and especially lesbian "marriages," where they are legal, turn out much more likely to end in divorce. Likewise, serial cohabitation in relationships before marriage does indeed lead to a greater likelihood of divorce.

I think statistics are a good way to force people on either side of debates to be realistic, rather than trying to use spin to force reality into conformity with a naive idealism or strident ideology. In this case, when it comes to the concrete realities of marriage and divorce:

We’ve all heard the statistic that 50 percent of marriages end in divorce, but recent data on marriage and divorce rates show that isn’t true. Divorce rates have actually declined since peaking in the 1970s, and 10-year divorce rates have dropped dramatically with each generation.

As economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers of the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School explain, there’s no simple equation for predicting divorce risk. Age of marriage, years of education and the decade during which you married all influence divorce risk. For instance, about 23 percent of female college grads married in the 1970s had divorced after 10 years, but among similar women married in the ’90s, only 16 percent had divorced.

Recently, major publications have taken a closer look at the numbers. Time magazine asks the provocative question, “Are Marriage Statistics Divorced from Reality?” The post includes a charming slide show of couples married for 50 years.

What about your own divorce risk? You’ll get some clues by reading the risk factors identified in a new report from the Daily Beast, which offers a list of fun facts about divorce and marriage, including data on how money problems, smoking and even whether you have a son or daughter influence your chances of staying married. (Full disclosure — both articles quote from my new book, “For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage.”)

To learn more about the factors that influence your personal divorce risk, be sure to check out Dr. Stevenson’s helpful divorce risk calculator from

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