There’s this statistic I often hear about how essentially 1 in every 2 marriages ends in divorce, or the 50% divorce rate. In researching for a future post, I discovered this was a myth in how “divorce rate” was calculated. Or at least I’m going to be kind and call it a myth. Someone either maliciously propagated it for their agenda, or were too stupid to know what they were talking about!
Divorce rate, according to that 50% statistic, is measured as number of divorces filed each year, against number of marriages made each year. The serious problem with this equation is that what’s called the number of divorces is from all the marriages which had taken place in previous years, which only happened to have ended in divorce in a given year. If people stopped getting married for a year, which is only an exaggeration of the increasing trend of common-law living, you could easily end up with more than 100% of marriages ending up in divorce by this calculation. Try this numerical example if you’re not getting what I’m saying.
According to the Centre for Disease Control, which I guess considers marriage and divorce a disease, there were 3.6 divorces for every 7.5 marriages in 2005. Both were measured out of 1,000 people so that base can be eliminated to avoid confusion in presenting the statistic. If you take 3.6 and divide by 7.5, you get 48% and that “50% divorce rate”. Now, if common-law living were to reduce marriages to 3.6 marriages per thousand people next year, you’re looking at a 100% divorce rate… and you can imagine the press would go nuts with the stories!
The correct way to interpret that so-called “divorce rate” statistic would be to say there was one divorce for every two marriages in a year, not one in every two marriages end in divorce. There’s a whole slew of marriages out there they can’t say yet whether or not it would end in divorce so they can’t claim 1 in 2 end in divorce!
So what is the real divorce rate, then?
75.56 million men ever marry (i.e. married at least once)
22.70 million men ever divorce
30.1% = men who ever marry end up getting divorced
87.32 million women ever marry
26.95 million women ever divorce
30.9% = women who ever marry end up getting divorced
162.88 million men and women ever marry
49.68 million men and women ever divorce
30.5% = men and women, combined, who ever married end up getting divorced
I know 30.5% isn’t a third as that is 33 and 1/3 percent, but for rough value’s sake, a third will do just fine as what the divorce rate should be quoted as. Subsequent marriages to the first fail at a rate higher than first marriages (Rutgers University web page), bringing up the overall rate from 30.5%. But because there aren’t nearly as many of them as first marriages, they wouldn’t skew the rate up by that much. So for rounding purposes, I’d say one third is a good estimate.
Now, if you don’t think that’s a huge difference to go from one half to one third, try this somber experiment. Next time you’re at a house party with many of your friends, especially if you’re old enough many of them are married, look around and predict which one of every two couples will end up in divorce. This is going to be true lest you believe you and your group of friends are somehow so special you would defy this average… and don’t kid yourself on how special you all are! Yes, these happy times with all these happy couples at this party won’t be like this some years down the road given all the divorces you just predicted. Go get another drink or two!
It’s a bit of a sad and shocking experiment, really. But then try it again with which one of every three couples will end up in divorce. The fact you get to “save” some marriages is probably a relief. That’s the difference between a half and a third, my friend! Every single marriage that you can “save” from ending up in divorce should be a relief, cause even if you think the divorce should happen, divorces just aren’t pretty things in life.
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Reading Level: 7.3