Good news for the marryin’ kind


With everything you read about divorce these days, dropping quarters into the electronic slots at a Las Vegas 7-11 can seem like a safer bet than a walk down the aisle. The notion that 50% of all marriages end in “the big D” is quite often the rain on a couple’s parade — especially when one or both individuals involved hail from families plagued by divorce. My parents have each been married multiple times, and the Beard is no stranger to the ravages of divorce. I viewed the mistakes made by my forebears as lessons on what not to do. The Beard was a bit more skeptical of the whole institution of marriage for a long while — as you may well remember!

But, like the title of my post states, there is good news to be found in this most confusing arena. Denialism blog recently devoted an entire column to the most common divorce myths. You know, the ones that make already commitment-phobic lovebirds shake in their figurative boots. As it turns out, the grim future of marriage isn’t quite so grim after all, which is good news for folks like me and the Beard, and many (if not most) of you.

I suggest reading the whole post for yourself, but here are some of the more intriguing happy highlights:

  • When viewed over a 60-year period, the marriage rate, for example, has remained fairly constant, with several long periods of slight ups and downs. The number of marriages per 1,000 people now hovers at 8.5, compared with a 60-year average of 10.1. The variations that did occur tended to come in times of depression and war, when fewer people got hitched because of economic or obvious logistical reasons.
  • Interestingly, while the 1950s are thought of as boom time for the family, the marriage rates were relatively low through the latter half of the decade and into the early 1960s. (Indeed, today’s rate beats that of 1958.) Then in 1968, when hippies were supposedly lovin’ the ones they were with, the marriage rate rose and stayed relatively high through 1975. It’s only when the numbers are viewed within a narrow 20-year context that marriage looks to be on its deathbed.
  • Further, the idea that 50% of marriages end in divorce is just an oft-repeated myth. It’s a statistical flub that comes from comparing the number of marriages in a given year to the number of divorces in a given year. However, since the marriages and divorces aren’t occurring in the same year, this doesn’t give an accurate picture of how many marriages are failing and is notoriously susceptible to population dynamics. Your actual chances of a failed marriage are about one in four, and the 50% figure is considered to be statistical nonsense.
  • Divorces reached a peak in the early eighties at a rate of about 40 percent (which was the highest level since the 1950s), and divorce has since entered a 20-year decline. The current rate of divorce is about 30-34% in any given year, and is lower among the college-educated (about 20%), Catholics, Muslims, and atheists. In a comparison of various religious denominations, the group that actually performs the worst are Baptists and Evangelical Christians, so I guess it makes sense that they seem to be most concerned with the idea of a divorce epidemic.

From this data, it looks like the odds that the Beard and I will stay together are pretty good. If you’re married, about to be married, or hope someday to be married, this is just one more thing to celebrate!

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