Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Marriage on the Mend

On the Townhall blog yesterday, I noted a great article by Michael Medved. I haven't seen Michael on that blog before, but I've always liked what he's written, and this article was no exception. Entitled, "Marriage Gloom-and-Doomers Are 'Divorced From Reality,'" his post highlights a recent New York Times article by Professors Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, on the state of marriage in America. And surprisingly, that state is improving!

Here are the quotes he gives from the New York Times article:

The great myth about divorce is that marital breakup is an increasing threat to American families, with each generation finding their marriages less stable than those of their parents,” they write. “The story of ever-increasing divorce is a powerful narrative. It is also wrong. In fact, the divorce rate has been falling continuously over the past quarter-century, and is now at its lowest level since 1970. While marriage rates are also declining, those marriages that do occur are increasingly more stable. For instance, marriages that began in the 1990s were more likely to celebrate a 10th anniversary than those that started in the 1980s, which, in turn, were also more likely to last than marriages that began in the 1970s.”

Near the conclusion of their column, Stevenson and Wolfers cite specific numbers: “The narrative or rising divorce is also completely at odds with counts of divorce certificates, which show the divorce rate as having peaked at 22.8 divorces per 1,000 married couples in 1979 and to have fallen by 2005 to 16.7…. The facts are that divorce is down, and today’s marriages are more stable than they have been in decades.”

The New York Times article also points out why the figures became so incredibly skewed that we began to believe that half of all marriages end in divorce:

The Census Bureau reported that slightly more than half of all marriages occurring between 1975 and 1979 had not made it to their 25th anniversary. This breakup rate is not only alarmingly high, but also represents a rise of about 8 percent when compared with those marriages occurring in the preceding five-year period.

But here’s the rub: The census data come from a survey conducted in mid-2004, and at that time, it had not yet been 25 years since the wedding day of around 1 in 10 of those whose marriages they surveyed. And if your wedding was in late 1979, it was simply impossible to have celebrated a 25th anniversary when asked about your marriage in mid-2004.

If the census survey had been conducted six months later, it would have found that a majority of those married in the second half of 1979 were happily moving into their 26th year of marriage. Once these marriages are added to the mix, it turns out that a majority of couples who tied the knot from 1975 to 1979 — about 53 percent — reached their silver anniversary.

In fact, Medved says, census figures show that "over 70% of first marriages manage to last until one of the partners dies." So, he asks, why do we keep hearing about how bad the situation is?

The left promotes the lie in order to indicate that timeless family institutions no longer apply in the 21st Century, and we need new, experimental, exciting and “liberating” arrangements--- like living together without commitment, or single mother households, open multiple partner relationships, or gay marriage, or whatever. The right goes along with the claims about moral collapse because the bad news conforms to the gloomy, “we’ve-lost-America” temperament of too many conservatives, as well as confirming the (often ill-informed) nostalgia for the recent past.
I'm afraid he may be right. Nevertheless, it's very encouraging to hear that the divorce rate is declining, and that Americans are staying together more and more. As one of those committed "till death do us part," it's nice to know that we aren't the only ones who have been married over 20 years! And as we consider the state of marriage in America, those of us who stand for "forever" marriages need to take heart, and not give up. A divorce rate of 16.7 per 1000 marriages means less than 2% of marriages break up every year. That's not ideal, but it's an improvement, and it speaks well for the future of marriages and families.


Renae said...

Thank you for sharing these interesting statistics. It is a refreshing reminder that marriage can and does work. Congratulations on yours!

Shawna said...

Well I was finding the article interesting and believable until the leftist remark. Many leftist leaders had "forever" marriages even if they were not ideal...and both liberals and conservatives were parts of the free-love movement of the 60's and 70s. That was not started and continued by only a portion of this country/culture.

I think part of what has happened beyond skewed data could be a few things: one, women have seen what divorce does to them and the children statistically--their standards of living drastically decreases, while their ex-spouse's increases; life gets harder as they now have to support all of them emotionally, physically and finacially and often go without support; a new spouse enters the picture and complicates things. Two, I think both men and women are getting married a bit later and are more mature and stable and know what they want and what they are giving up and getting by marrying. Three, I think as a culture we have become a bit less selfish, as in the "me-generation" has passed, and we do think of the kids when it comes to things like divorce.

No matter reasons, I am like you and glad to see that the divorce rate is indeed falling.

Crimson Wife said...

For women holding a bachelor's degree or higher, 5 out of 6 of them will NOT experience a divorce. That's a far cry from the popular notion that half of all marriages fail.

What I think would really be helpful is if the government revised its policies to stop penalizing marriage financially. Not just in the tax code but also in the income limits for assistance programs such as WIC, Medicaid, etc. We should stop penalizing families who do the right thing and marry instead of just cohabiting.