Saturday, December 30, 2006

There Really Is a 50% Divorce Rate

First Marriage Dissolution, Divorce, and Remarriage: United States (This is a pdf document) In recent discussions of gay marriage, the question came up about the reality of the 50% divorce figure.

Plenty of people would like to sweep that 50% figure under the rug. The implication being that so many divorces point to problems with straight marriage. Whether that is true or not is open for debate - but not in this post. (Is it better to let people get divorced or force them to stay in unloving marriages? Who gets to decide if not the people in the marriage? And if marriage is about something besides love, why don't we turn back the clock even farther and go for arranged marriages?)

The referenced document details a 2001 study carried out by the Center for Disease Control. You can wonder why they are studying this, and you would have a point. The CDC does love to study things that are not really diseases. They like to think that you should look to them for answers to all questions in life. Nevertheless, the study is valid.

Will gay marriage destroy straight marriage? The preachers on the right would have you believe it would. There have been about 12,000 gays and lesbians married in Canada. How are those unions destroying your marriage? Could it be that those thousands of people you do not know have no impact on your marriage at all? Could it be that your marriage is in trouble all on its own?

Percentage of First Marriages Disrupted (by either separation or divorce) by length of marriage. (From Table 3 in the referenced document).
Duration of Marriage Total (Cumulative) Percent Disrupted
4 years 16%
5 years 20%
10 years 33%
20 years 50%

There is of course the issue that not all separations result in divorce. 54% of marriages where the partners are separated for 1 year end in divorce. The number is 75% after 2 years and continues to go up approaching 91% at 5 years and 95% at 10 years. (From Table 5 in the referenced document.) Divorces take about 1 year.

Second marriages don't fair much better. (You would think we would learn from our mistakes...) 23% of 2nd marriages are disrupted by 5 years, and 33% after 10 years of marriage. The data for 2nd marriages doesn't go beyond 10 years of marriage in the study, but the trend is following that of first marriages pretty closely.

If you take a more brute-force approach and compare the marriage rate to the divorce rate, you find that in a given year, the divorce rate appears to be about half of the marriage rate. For example, in 2004, the marriage rate was 7.7 while the divorce rate was 3.8. Given the vagaries of how this data is compiled - several states are excluded from the tabulation - this is another check on the 50% figure. (50% of 7.7 would be 3.85 for you mathematically challenged.)

And yes, there is a move afoot to restrict divorce and eliminate no-fault divorce. The same people who claim that "gay marriage will destroy straight marriage" have noticed that straight marriage doesn't last the way it used to, and are going after no-fault and easy divorce as the downfall of civilization - right behind gay marriage of course.

The percentage of the population that is married: 59% in 2002 (down from 62% in 1990, 72% in 1970) This link will take you to lots of divorce statistics.

Do these statistics point to marriage in trouble? Or would it be better to force people to stay in unloving relationship? And why is the government involved?

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