Sunday, September 25, 2011

Do liberal states in the US really have lower divorce rates?

Moral of this story: distrust the reporting of statistics in the mainstream media.

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.

Anyway, some on the left had a field day using statistics about higher divorce rates in the Bible Belt. Here's an example:

...perhaps conservative Christianity and conservative religion in general are unable to provide a sound basis for marriage — that perhaps there are other, more secular foundations for marriage that conservative Christians are missing. What might they be? Well, an obvious possibility is treating women like fully autonomous equals in the relationship, something which conservative Christianity frequently denies.

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.

18 comments:

  1. Linked to this. Thanks for pointing this out, as I've always been puzzled by this statistic.

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  2. Moral of this story: distrust the reporting of statistics in the mainstream media.


    Make that: distrust the mainstream media, full stop. (Not just on statistics).

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  3. A "fully autonomous" person is, by definition, not married.

    This is a an important fact you've dug up, Mark. Thanks. Do we know how the results change when one makes the proper comparison, normalizing by number of married couples?

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  4. What divorce statistics hide:

    - Numbers of single and never married people have risen.

    - Lower marriage rates equals lower divorce rates.

    - If older women in statistics have less divorce rates than their younger counterparts it's because the market is dried up and they have less options than they would have had in their younger years. There's also the possibility of spinsterhood and ending up alone after divorcing while old.

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  5. I believed that people in the northeast were... more likely to have higher incomes and higher education and that this explained the difference.

    Higher income people, if they marry at all, only have slightly less divorce rates due to the liberalized, feminist influenced laws. I remember reading that a wife from a billionaire confiscated $100 million in assets in a divorce settlement. And that's just one scary statistic. The bigger one has, the bigger one loses. If the rich try to divorce they try to aliveate these burdens and unless this happens they stay married. Remember also that most divorces are initiated by women (60 to 80% of the time).

    When it comes to education those with the highest education tend to divorce the most. Then comes those with the lowest education. Then finally comes those whom have moderate education.

    There's also the recent talk of teenage pregnancies and how supposedly this is common in more conservative areas. They always leave out the higher number of minorities compared to Europeans. In reality most traditional conservative women have their first pregnancy between 18 and 30 (early twenties to mid twenties). Liberals also created this myth to satisfy and extended their obsession with Palin (whom I find embarassing, narcissistic and little more than a liberal lite).

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  6. plI remember reading that a wife from a billionaire confiscated $100 million in assets in a divorce settlement.

    Apologies this is incorrect. She collected much higher.

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  7. As Disraeli used to say:

    "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and..."

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  8. Good catch. There are a couple of strong predictors of divorce which are almost always left out of this kind of analysis. As Elizabeth mentioned the age of the wife is a very strong predictor of divorce rates. Also, IQ and race.

    The sad thing is that divorce rates are abysmal any way you slice them.

    By the way, do you have the source for the stats on divorce by political affiliation?

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  9. Divorce is certain in all western countries. The more one sees of modern society the more one desires to emulate the ancient hermits who retreated into the deserts where they could be free of the nauseating depravity that pervaded late Roman society. The older I get, the happier I am that I never married. Everyone has enemies, but at least those who aren't married are spared the hideousness of having their worst enemy living under their very own roof with them. (this isn't to say that every wife is her husband's worst enemy, but when the odds are against a man to the extent that they are in modern western societies, it's quite foolish to take such a chance. It would be rather like trying to swim a crocodile infested river. You just might make it, but it's not likely to say the least.) The wise man learns from the experiences of others.

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  10. Thanks for this, was really helpful

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  11. Anon (1.29),

    On the one hand I agree that the general rate of divorce is high enough now to damage confidence in the institution of marriage.

    However, men are not equally at risk. For some the odds of divorce are much lower.

    We need a positive approach of working to change the culture to lower the general rate of divorce whilst putting ourselves in as strong a position as we can in our own lives to marry well.

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  12. Do we know how the results change when one makes the proper comparison, normalizing by number of married couples?

    Bonald, that's a good question, but I wasn't able to find a clear answer in the report.

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  13. Good points Elizabeth and of course excellent article Mark.

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  14. "We need a positive approach of working to change the culture to lower the general rate of divorce whilst putting ourselves in as strong a position as we can in our own lives to marry well."

    How about slowly working towards a ban? The Philippines ought not be the only country in the world to ban divorce...

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  15. Is divorce necessarily the big issue by itself though? Does the option of divorce by itself inevitably lead to or create immoral behavior, or does the option of divorce within an increasingly immoral/amoral society simply aggravate the social harm?

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  16. ""does the option of divorce within an increasingly immoral/amoral society simply aggravate the social harm?""

    I think it is more a case of current divorce laws [including no-fault laws] being weighted in favour of one sex so heavily.

    Most men will want children and want some say in how they grow up.

    To do this you usually need a wife to provide a stable platform for growing kids. This brings the risks of divorce.

    Teaching young men that it is perfectly acceptable to treat women differently based on their long term potential is a public service.

    A 35 y.o career woman with plenty of notches in the headboard is not the same prospect for a long term relationship as a younger woman with fewer sexual partners.

    Men need to not only be free to say this, but to say it loudly. Women have certain expectations of men in society and get very loud when they are not met. If men even did a smidge of the same this country would be a very different place.

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  17. Is divorce necessarily the big issue by itself though? Does the option of divorce by itself inevitably lead to or create immoral behavior, or does the option of divorce within an increasingly immoral/amoral society simply aggravate the social harm?

    I think it's some of the former with a lot of the latter. Divorce was available in earlier traditional societies but it was pretty restricted (e.g. reasons such adultery, abandoment and the like) and mostly shamed. I think that divorce is a consequence and not so much of a cause. Divorce was caused by two major influences: feminism and free love movement (sexual liberation). One, feminism, attacked and placed the favour towards women instead of what is best for the nuclear family and the other, sexual liberation, mostly disrupted notions of marriage and standards of human sexuality. In sum the enlarged option of divorce will lead to immoral behaviour and this typically occurs in an immoral/amoral society. In other words the answers to your questions are interlinked.

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