More problems with the remarriage rate predictions.

In Post-marital spinsterhood part two: the data, I showed how stats from a NCHS/CDC study in 2002 using data of women who divorced in the mid 80s was causing women to have an unrealistic expectation of their chances of remarriage following divorce today.   The other day I was looking for more (and hopefully newer and better) data on the question, and found another paper using the same 1995 NSFG data set:  First Marriage Dissolution, Divorce, and Remarriage: United States. Advance Data 323.

This paper has the same results but shares more detail on the data used, methodology, and what they actually found.  For example, this table on page 9 shows the values for the data points included in the charts I referenced in the other post:

If you click on the chart to see the full size version, you will notice the final row includes the percent of divorced women who’s data was censored in the study because they had not yet remarried at the time of the interview.  Also note the age range for the data set.  They only interviewed women aged 15 to 44 for this study.

The limited age range really made this a poor data set to try to determine remarriage rates.  Of the women they interviewed who were over 25 at the time of divorce, 48% had not remarried! Yet this is the very data set referenced when we hear that a woman has a 75% chance of remarriage within 10 years of divorce.

The researchers used a mechanism called Life tables to try to make the best use of their limited data (page 3).  This allows them to use data points which have partial value instead of throwing them out entirely:

So a woman who divorced 5 years ago and never remarried can be used to determine the remarriage probability for the first five years.  However, her data can’t be used to calculate remarriage probability for years 6 and beyond because her future status can’t be known.  A woman who divorced 5 years ago and remarried after 3 years would be calculated as unmarried for the first 3 years and calculated as married for the remaining 15 years since they know remarriage is an event which can’t be “undone” (divorce doesn’t change the fact that she remarried).

At first glance this sounds much better than throwing out all of the surveys for women who hadn’t remarried.  Not only would they be shrinking their sample size, but by studying only those women who had remarried they would bias their results towards remarriage.  However, it seems the Life table approach would also create a bias towards remarriage, especially for longer time durations.  For example, both women in the examples above had divorced 5 years ago.  However, only the one who remarried will be included in the data used to calculate 10 and 15 year remarriage probabilities.  Given that nearly half of the data they used had this problem, this would seem to be a very significant bias which isn’t accounted for in the methodological explanation of the paper.

This one bias alone seems quite significant to me, but in addition I noticed the following other problems:

  1. Instead of reporting on likelihood of remarriage following divorces which occurred in 1985 as I originally thought, the study actually is going farther back and examining remarriage rates for divorces which occurred as far back as 1965.   As I showed in the first post, remarriage rates are declining over time.
  2. The results are being reported as for women 15-44, but because of how they structured their sample they ensured that they wouldn’t have any data on 10 year or longer remarriage rates for women who divorced over age 35.  The five year data only includes women who divorced at age 40 or younger and is skewed strongly towards younger because only the oldest of those surveyed could possibly have divorced at this older age.  Even worse, the data is being represented as showing remarriage rates for women under 25 and those 25 and over.  The over 25 results most closely represent remarriage rates of women who divorce between 25 and 35.  Even worse, the statistic most often cited (the stat for all women) is skewed even younger, primarily representing women who divorced between 15 and 35.

All three of the biases I found would cause an overestimation of remarriage rates.  If you add all three effects together, this study must be massively overestimating remarriage rates, and this is before taking into account the evidence that the remarriage rate itself has continued to fall in the 15 years since the data was gathered (see my original post).

Why confusion about age is such a disaster when women see these stats:

As I have shown the study is strongly biased toward divorces which occur earlier in life when a woman’s chance of remarriage is highest.  While the population of divorced women is almost entirely over age 35, the study focuses almost entirely on women 35 and under.  The age skew of the divorcée population occurs partly because you have to marry first to divorce (and marriage is occurring later in life), and partly because of the greater likelihood of remarrying quickly if still young.  According to the 2010 Census Data, there are 13.8 million divorced (and not remarried) women in the US.  Over 80% of divorced women are over age 40, and 89% of them are over age 35. We know from the AARP study and others that past age 40 divorcées are much less likely to remarry, and much more likely to be terribly alone if they don’t.  As I have shared before:

Almost 9 in 10 men (87%) dated after their divorce, compared to 8 in 10 women (79%)…  Among those who dated after the divorce, more than half of men (54%) but fewer women remarried (39%). (Page 39)

Many women, especially those who have not remarried (69%), do not touch or hug at all sexually. An even larger majority of women who have not remarried do not engage in sexual intercourse (77% saying not at all), in comparison with about half of men (49%) who have not remarried.  (Page 6)

Keep in mind that the AARP study itself is reporting outcomes for women who divorced roughly 20 years ago, so the results for current divorcées are likely to be even worse based on the declining remarriage trend.

I know this is all very grim, and if you are like me you are pretty well exhausted with all of the data.  But knowing the reality of the data is important, and I’m not aware of anyone else doing this work.  Additionally no new studies have been performed for over 15 years, and I’m not aware of any on the horizon.  Ignoring reality and actively selling late life divorce has gotten us over 11 million divorcées over age 40 in the US alone.  Telling the painful truth can only help women not yet divorced make the best choice possible for their specific situation.  On the whole the direction this moves their choices as a group will also be more moral (keeping their most solemn promises), in addition to being better for their children and hopefully themselves and their husbands.

Note: It is likely that one of my readers has much more experience with this sort of analysis than I do.  From my own analysis I’m very confident that I am right.  However, feel free to correct me if I have misunderstood or misrepresented the data or methodology of the report.  I don’t mean Dalrock is a meanie misogynist so it must be wrong.  But please share an actual logical explanation of where I have misinterpreted the report if you believe I have made an error.

Dec 21 2012 Update:  We now have a fresh snapshot of remarriage rates using what appears to be a more solid data set.

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24 Responses to More problems with the remarriage rate predictions.

  1. Anthony says:

    The data may not be readily available, but couldn’t one use a snapshot of (re)marriages occurring in a recent year to cross-check? Find out, for all marriages in 2009 (or 2008, or the latest year for which the data is available) how many of the men and of the women at each age (group) were previously married, and how long it had been since either the divorce was filed or made final. Compare those numbers to the numbers of divorced men and women who did not remarry in that year.

  2. Thag Jones says:

    I’m curious if there’s any data on those who end up living with a partner without getting married or if that’s included as common law marriage. I know I would be reluctant to want to bother with marriage again unless I was still of an age where breeding was likely or desired, although one never knows.

  3. Zammo says:

    Dalrock is a meanie! [Someone had to say it…]

    Thag raises a very good point. Sadly, I suspect there is little data available to indicate the trend.

  4. dalrock says:

    Thanks Zammo for getting that out of the way!

    Thag,

    You might check the AARP study. I just skimmed it and didn’t see specific findings, but they had it in their data set (it was their first question, see P 65). They studied everything from kissing to how often the people had anal and oral sex, so you would think living together would have been of interest. Also, even though the AARP did the study it was mostly of people who divorced in their 40s.

  5. Dream Puppy says:

    An easy way to see current trends would be to track all marriages and see how many men and women were getting married for the first time or the second (third) time. If your theory is correct then we should be seeing many more women marrying for the first time and more men marrying the second or third time.

    [D: If you can find the data, I’ll be happy to help get out the word (whatever it is).]

    My mother married 3 times, so single ladies don’t fret. She is also beautiful and not at all discerning as far as look or personality were concerned. Ha. Ha.

  6. Thag Jones says:

    Right. I imagine divorcing once in your 40s, for a woman, is not going to bode well for new love. It takes a while to get over something like that if you have any heart left, by which time you’ll be menopausal, and who wants that for a new prospect?! It’s one thing to go through all that with someone you have a history with and have (one hopes) come to love a lot as a person and can still see her as the young woman you married (now I’m really giving away my romantic heart, woops), but for someone new, forget it!

  7. dalrock says:

    @Thag
    Right. I imagine divorcing once in your 40s, for a woman, is not going to bode well for new love.

    The survey tends to back that up. But it only says it isn’t common, not that it isn’t possible. 79% of the women dated, and 39% of those remarried. So if I’m doing my math right, 79% x 39% = 31% of the women remarried. Not great odds, but like I said before you don’t have to beat the bear, just the other hikers.

    Then again getting married doesn’t always mean new love, at least it seems for women (which always puzzles me…). Still, it must be possible!

  8. mbmusings says:

    Most people would agree that people are getting married now at a later age than was normal a few decades ago. How much this can be attributed to a ‘marriage strike’ versus a prolonged adolescent period for young adults today as compared to previous generations is a difficult question.

    Although the trend since this study was completed may be towards fewer marriages, more divorce, etc, as you claim, it seems to me that at the same time a counter trend has emerged that includes increased promiscuity, more non-marriage living arrangements, and more serial monogamy by older couples rather than simply the life of an old, frigid spinster as may have been common even a generation ago.

    The nature of the divorce also affects how the individuals react to its aftermath. Not to many years ago, it was common for the man to be the one who wanted out of the marriage, either as a mid-life crisis, or the result of an affair, etc. This bombshell to the dependent wife would alter her opinion of men in a way that would make it very difficult to trust men again, especially intimately. That a wife dumped by her husband would become cold and uninterested in sex for years afterwards is normal.

    I think that modern divorce law still reflects this paradigm of the man betraying his dependent wife and should have to pay for her upkeep while he has his fun.

    However, the times have changed. Now it appears that women are much more likely to initiate the divorce and drop the bombshell on the hapless husband who devoted a significant portion of his life to the relationship. In this scenario, the ex-wife should have no problem getting intimate with other men, sometimes immediately after the divorce, whereas the man may need to withdraw from the company of women for some time. Why he should continue to have to pay her to have fun as a free woman is a cruel twist of fate.

    I think your larger point is correct. That women who married at 25 and divorced at 35 are in for a rude awakening about how their sexual market value has fallen during that time, and that their chances of upgrading their current husband to a better model at that age are slim at best.

  9. Thag Jones says:

    I try not to be overly optimistic or pessimistic, but as I’ve said before, better to be prepared for “the worst” (if that’s what you consider a nice, solitary, peaceful existence) and if someone comes along to share the space and enjoy that with you, bonus. There are advantages to staying single too, but for some reason we (women in particular) tend to focus on the negative and are bombarded with the negative, as if you’re no one if you’re not out shagging random men all weekend like a collage tart.

    I think the real problem with a lot of these people is that they have no interests or hobbies, so they define themselves through someone else and the smell of desperation on some of them is rather pungent. There are an awful lot of boring people out there.

    Note that I didn’t say ALL, I said A LOT.

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  11. Anonymous says:

    Just curious.. given that divorced men, let’s say, past 40, remarry at a much higher rate than their female counterparts, the question arises as to who do they marry? Without getting into too much complicated detail, it would be nice to know how it works out. If one assumes that they remarry to younger women, then the question is who are these women? Because the women in their 20s are already engaged or dating men in theirs 20s, or early 30s, and the ones who are in their 30s are also mostly together with their age group. There is no evidence of a massive coupling of past 40 men with 30 yo women. Sure, there are such couples, but are there really enough 30yo women for every 40yo male divorcee.

  12. dalrock says:

    @Anon
    Just curious.. given that divorced men, let’s say, past 40, remarry at a much higher rate than their female counterparts, the question arises as to who do they marry?

    This is really the flip side to the question of who the women in their 20s, 30s and even early 40s are married to when the men of the same age brackets are consistently married at a lower rate. The gap narrows over time but it isn’t until men and women are in their late 40s that it really evens out and then moves the other direction. See this chart I made with data from the 2009 census.

    Also keep in mind that the life expectancy differences between men and women is commonly misunderstood. Men have lower life expectancies but this is because men are dying in greater numbers throughout the age brackets. If a husband and wife are both 65 the wife is only likely to outlive her husband by about 2 years. But the result of the slightly larger death rates across all ages is cumulative and therefore even by middle age starts to make an impact.

  13. Anonymous says:

    If there are more married women than men in the 20-40 age bracket, then the question is even more pressing – who are the divorced 40+ year old men marrying. The median age disparity in marriage is 2 years.

    Just judging from everyday life.. sure, it is harder to date after 40, for women and to some extent men too. But it is not uncommon to see a divorced woman remarry (usually in their late 30s early 40s) and even have another kid. Also, some women want to stay single and just date for fun, since they are already done with the child rearing.

    Meanwhile, it is not that easy for a regular 40 yo man to land someone 10-20 years younger. The truth is that not that many women in their late 20s to mid 30s wish to date men in their 40s. Sure, some do but not most.

    http://www.evanmarckatz.com/blog/why-do-women-in-their-30s-not-want-to-date-men-in-their-40s/

    It must be even tougher for women, but it’s not that easy for older men either. So the question really is who are these men marrying. You might see an occasional successful older man with a much younger woman, but we all know that this is not the norm. Many of the 30 year old spinsters rather prefer to stay single than date much older.

    The male death rate is, of course, higher, but it has been naturally compensated by more males being born. Most data shows that in the 20-30 year bracket there are more men than women (of course, some of them are not eligible, in prisons, etc). Only after the 35 year mark it starts to even out.

  14. dalrock says:

    Anon, the Rationalization Hamster 500 is over. You will have to wait until next year. But you do look like a strong contender!

  15. Liza Jane says:

    I’m divorced at 31 with a toddler. The statistics about remarriage are so dissapointing and I was hoping they were skewed because of underlying predjudices about divorce and single mothers. It’s discouraging because I make a very respectable living (respectable enough to be on the hook for alimony to him) so I’m not out freewheeling with someone elses money. I’d LOVE to date someone in their 40’s….it would be nice to not be the only adult in the relationship.

  16. Mjay says:

    I’m a divorced guy in his 40s and I date women in their 30s.

    The biggest issue I see for the situation is not the women rejecting the men, but vice-versa.

    Many of those women are desperate to get married, and if you’re a guy in his mid-40s who’s been through a rough divorce, esp. in a state like CA or MA, marriage is out of the question.

    I am 47 and my last girlfriend is 32. She was great, but my ex-wife made our lives hell once we became a public couple.

    Ex-wives are women’s biggest barrier to marrying men who have been divorced.

    I can’t tell you how many women I know who are in their mid 30’s-40s who are frustrated that their divorced boyfriends have no interest in proposing, in large part because their former wives continue to make their lives difficult.

    Marriage is for women, not for men. They’re calling the shots, they need to fix the system.

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  20. Still Here says:

    Um…let me suggest something.

    I’m in my mid-40s, divorced, a mother. I’ve had no shortage of propositions since my divorce, even the odd proposal. But I’ve said no to almost all, because — to be quite blunt — I already have a child. I don’t need to be taking care of a superannuated child who goes around looking like a grown man. And far too many men in their 40s and 50s are childish. Won’t do their own literal or emotional housekeeping if a woman’s around.

    Narrowing the field further: I’m done pretending things might work when I know from experience that they don’t. The man needs to have a level of education similar to mine. Needs to have talents and interests similar to mine. Needs to have his own life, needs to recognize that I’m not putting myself or my child aside for him. Needs to take care of his own mental and physical health; I’ve learned not to date significantly overweight men, not because the look turns me off, but because it almost always signifies that the man either won’t take care of himself or is on some serious psych meds. I’m all done playing social director, and no, I don’t want to meet or take care of your mother. And he needs to treat me right. If a man’s behaving in ways I wouldn’t take from my 3rd-grader, well, I’m not likely to take it from him, either.

    I don’t want to be seriously involved with a man who doesn’t bother to take care of his money, either. I don’t care if he doesn’t make much, but if he’s irresponsible with what he does make, he’s likely irresponsible in other ways, too.

    I won’t be involved with a man who talks trash about his ex, or who’s constantly whittling away at his ex’s child support, or harassing her in court. That’s the mother of his children, and if he can’t see that stressing her out is bad for those kids, and respect the work she does, then no, I don’t want him.

    I was involved with a divorced man — smart, talented, accomplished, a good father, protective of his ex — but as I began to recognize how troubled he was, and started backing away, he killed himself. Lies the whole time, of course, about his situation and various problems. Left his ex with the awful burden of dealing with his suicide and helping heal their child.

    I suspect the problem is not so much that women over 40 are old and undesirable as that we’re old and experienced, and there’s s*** we won’t put up with, and men know it. I suspect too that those men who are really wonderful tend to stay married, so they’re not on the market anyway. The ones I see…oh goodness, they have so many problems. So many angry men, so many who’ll take it out on women. So many refusing to cope with mortality and the fact of not having made it big by midlife. And the sexual problems are real. I’ve learned not to expect anything when I have an older boyfriend.

    I smiled when I read the wide-eyed warnings of No Sex For Older Divorcees. Honey, don’t you know we’re generally much better at pleasing ourselves, by midlife, than men are? Oh my. And no risk of pregnancy, no birth control to worry about, no STDs, no UTIs from that wretched nonoxynol. No unspoken tensions about Whether It’s Time For Viagra. No disappointments, either, when a man just can’t keep up with us. We are, after all, in our sexual prime. I grant you that man’s very nice once in a while. But on the whole…trust me, we ain’t waiting around.

  21. Still Here says:

    “Ex-wives are women’s biggest barrier to marrying men who have been divorced.”

    I suspect that’s more or less confined to fathers who’ve been divorced. And it’s sensible. Too many girlfriends fail to recognize that although the guy’s divorced, they’re trying to join families in progress. Families that’ll be a dominant fact of life till the last kid’s out of school. The ex is never going to let the guy off the hook, because she’s got kids to protect, and she knows that it really does matter whether the guy pays his support, spends time paying attention to them, is involved in their activities, etc. And if the girlfriend tries to get in the way of the childrearing job that either ex-spouse is doing, the ex-wife isn’t going to be nice about it at all.

  22. FT says:

    Hey, thank you so much for clarifying what I have suspected for several years. I have been quoting the 75% figure to my single mother friends, but in reality, in the past 20 years, I can think of only one woman over 40 who has remarried.

    But here is another interesting research project for you, I suspect that today more women over 40 remarry than in generations past. Why do I think that?

    I’ve been working on my genealogy, mainly from 1820-1950. I’ve got 5 generations and more than 250 individuals. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the life expectancy was only 48 years old, so more women were widowed at age 20-40 than today. Guess what? In my family tree, not one of them remarried if (1) they already had at least one child and (2) they were over 30.

    So I think women need to stop longing for the “good old days.” They never existed.

  23. FT says:

    Thank you for recommending this 2004 AARP study on divorce and remarriage in midlife. The data was a complete surprise. It blew my assumptions out of the water. No wonder so few people ages 40-79 remarry. About 80% of them simply aren’t very interested in remarriage (see response breakdown on p. A-22). Some 13% “were reluctant”; 43% “did not want to”; and 26% “were not sure.” So for women, only 17% “wanted to remarry.”

    To top it, of the three religious groups identified in the study, Baptists were the least likely to want to remarry. According to the data, Baptists love their financial independence and like having the house “just so” more than any other religious (or non-religious) groups in the survey. They also love “do things for themselves” and “not being responsible for another person” more than almost any other religious group.

    Guess that’s why my widowed grandmother never remarried: “Too much work,” she said.

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