Ahhh, statistics. As a right brainer, my eyes glaze over when I see charts or someone starts going into in-depth statistics. There are many people in the general public who are just like me. How do I know that? Most of us hear one number as a general statistic and that’s good enough for us. That’s all we want to know thank you very much. We don’t want to feel as if we are back in high school wishing the bell would ring and let us out of this mind numbing class. We’re happy to take our one number that sounds reasonable and quote it in any upcoming conversation that includes that topic.
Here’s a test to see if you fall into this category too.
Quick, what’s the divorce rate in the U.S.?
You probably answered 50%.
That’s what we hear in the media and we repeat it over and over again. At thinkmarriage.org we get feedback from people who like our mission because, well, don’t you know there’s a 50% divorce rate in the U.S.?
Unfortunately in our instant potato, microwave society, the real truth is not quite that easy to disseminate. Just because we love a simple, wrapped in a bow, easy to remember statistic doesn’t mean it’s what’s actually happening.
Here’s a better look at the rates of marriage and divorce in the U.S. Titled: Interpreting Divorce Rates, Marriage Rates, and Data on the Percentage of Children with Single Parents, this Research Brief
by Paul R. Amato will make you much more informed on the current data.
As the report states: data on family statistics comes from two primary sources: vital statistics and surveys. Total counts of marriages and divorces are reported by state and county offices to the federal government and are summarized in publications from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Center for Health Statistics. Funding for the collection and publication of detailed marriage and divorce statistics was suspended in January 1996.
Wait, stop! 1996? That’s like a hundred years ago in statistic land isn’t it? For example, in 2004, California, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, and Louisiana did not report this type of information. For this reason, there is no complete count of how many divorces occur in the United States annually.
What to do to fill in the gap? Enter the survey.
This report points out a better measure—the refined divorce rate. This rate is the number of divorces per 1,000 married women.
Back to report speak:
This rate is preferable to the crude divorce rate because the denominator includes only those people at risk of divorce. The federal government has not published information on the refined divorce rate for many years. Nevertheless, in 2008 the annual ACS added a question on divorce (and marriage) during the previous year. The addition of this question (which will continue in subsequent surveys) makes it possible to calculate a refined divorce rate for the United States, including states that do not report information on divorce statistics to the federal government. An analysis of this item indicates that the refined divorce rate ranged from a low of 14.3 in North Dakota to a high of 34.5 in Washington, DC, with a national average of 19.4 (National Center for Family and Marriage Research, 2010). An advantage of the refined divorce rate is that it has a clear interpretation. That is, dividing the rate by 10 yields the percentage of marriages that end in divorce every year. Currently, this figure is about 2%. A possible limitation of relying on the ACS is that surveys (in general) appear to underestimate the frequency of divorce when compared with vital statistics (Martin and Bumpass, 1989). When the federal government releases vital divorce statistics for 2008, it should be possible to assess the extent and importance of any bias.
Did you get that?
I hope you will read the report and educate yourself so the next time someone throws out the old tried and true 50% divorce rate you can bring up this report and sound like Einstein.
Because remember 89.2 % of all statistics are made up.