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Myths, Realities, and Thoughts About the Divorce Rate

divorce statisticsEvery now and then, American media will plaster the U.S. divorce rate all over the news outlets. No doubt you’ve seen or heard the shocking news that the divorce rate in America is at 50%, meaning half of all marriages stay in tact; or, if you’re a glass-half-empty kind of person, then  50% of American marriages end in divorce.

This news sparks floods of opinions from pundits from all sides and shades of every spectrum known to man; “Are Americans experiencing a moral dilemma,” or “Are we simply the epitome of depravity?” No one is quite sure, but here’s one thing we are sure of: The divorce rate has not hit cruise control at 50%.

Numbers Never Lie, Statistics on the Other Hand…

According to the U.S. Census Population compendia published in 2012, the percentage of divorced spouses in 2010 was 10.4%. Although the census data excluded members of the Armed Forces, 10.4% is quite a different figure from 50%.

So why on earth do people say the divorce rate is 50%? Well we’re glad you asked, because it’s really a strange and interesting quasi-science.

Calculating the Divorce Rate

Statisticians have various methods to calculate the divorce rate, according to the National Numeracy Network.

  • Method 1: Calculate the ratio of divorces and marriages per year

  • Method 2: Calculate the percentage of divorces that occur per year throughout the entire population

  • Method 3: Calculate the percentage of divorces that occur per year throughout all marriages

  • Method 4: Calculate the percentage of divorces occurring in a group of people who married within the same year

According to a New York Times article, most social scientists (as they are called) prefer to use Method 4 to find the current divorce rate and project the future divorce rate. But, as it turns out, the divorce rate is very time-specific and cannot reliably be used to predict future divorce rates. The reason is because each generation has different social variables that influence their marriage and divorce rate.

Custom Divorce Rates

Like every person realizes one day, there are multiple sides to a single story; divorce is no different. Each generation has different life-altering events and obstacles to overcome, just like each generation has different famed cartoons or celebrities.

A Wall Street Journal essay, published in 2011, put it best: “Every generation has its life-defining moments . . . For much of my generation– Generation X, born between 1965 and 1980– there is only one question: “When did your parents get divorced?” “

The essay included a graph from the National Marriage Project, depicting the rises and falls of the divorce rate. The points of time are connected by a continuous line, but in the light of the highly time-specific nature of the divorce rate I wonder, “Should we depict the divorce rate as a single, long-term event?” I also wonder how the projected 50% divorce rate affects couples currently on the fence about filing for divorce.

Readers, what are your thoughts on the divorce rate? Is a reliable indicator of the state of America’s family structure, or should we even put stock in the idea of a divorce rate?

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