Nowhere close to true.

I’ve done a bit more digging for the source of the data Shaunti Feldhahn shared in the articles promoting her book (see previous post).  She mentions 2009 Census data, and I recalled that the SIPP data from the US Census Bureau includes information on marital and divorce history.  The publication Number, Timing and Duration of Marriages and Divorces: 2009 looked at first like it might be the source of the data she references when she writes in her Catalyst article (emphasis hers):

The Good News

Perhaps most surprising, half of all marriages are not ending in divorce. According to the Census Bureau, 72% of those who have ever been married, are still married to their first spouse! And the 28% who aren’t, includes everyone who was married for many years, until a spouse died.  No-one knows what the average first-marriage divorce rate actually is, but based on the rate of widowhood and other factors, we can estimate it is probably closer to 20-25%. For all marriages (including second marriages, and so on), it is in the 31-35% range, depending on the study.

In the Christian Post article she describes the 72% statistic as coming from US Census data for 2009:

…according to 2009 Census Bureau numbers, 72% of people are still married to their first spouse – and the 28% who aren’t, includes people who were married for years until a spouse died!

As I mentioned above, this made me optimistic that I had found the right publication, or at least the right data set.  However, the data in the Census report doesn’t match the statistic she is quoting.  Table 6 has the data to make this calculation, but when I look at the table for those 15 and over and divide the percent still married to their first spouse by the percent ever married, it comes out to 63% (42.5/67) for men and 56% (40.6/72.8) for women.  The weighted average for both sexes is 59%.  None of these numbers are close to the 72% she is asserting.

One possibility is that she was mistakenly dividing the percent still in their first marriage by the percent who married only once, as commenter jf12 suspected.  For women 15 and older this comes out to 70.6% (40.6/57.5).  This still isn’t a perfect match, but it is very close (only one point away after rounding).  However, this method of calculation excludes all cases where the first marriage ended (due to death or divorce) and the woman went on to remarry.  Remarriage shouldn’t be considered at all when making this calculation.

If I come across her book in a bookstore I’ll see if I can find the exact data source and calculation she used to come up with her 72% number.  Either way, even the 72% figure contradicts her other assertion that the “real” divorce rate is closer to 20-25%.  Since this calculation is for all age groups, it is going to include a fair number of relatively recently married people who haven’t yet had much exposure to the risk of divorce.  A far better option would be to focus on those later in life.  Fortunately Table 2 in the same Census publication breaks out the percentage of ever married women who have ever divorced by age (click for larger view):


However, this is slightly different than the percentage of women whose first marriage ended in divorce, since it is possible that for some women their first marriage ended with the death of their husband and one or more subsequent remarriages ended in divorce.  Still, this figure doesn’t fit with her claim in the Catalyst article that 70% of ever married boomers are still with their first spouses:

Even among the highest-risk age group –baby boomers—seven in ten are still married to their first spouse. Most of them have had 30 years’ worth of chances to get divorced…and they are still together.

Since 41% of ever married women in their 50s and 37% of ever married women in their 60s have divorced at least once, this means that no more than 59% of the former and 63% the latter are still together in their first marriage (and the numbers would be even smaller if we accounted for first marriage widows who didn’t remarry and later divorce).  Thus this data set doesn’t fit with her 70% claim.  It is possible that she used a different data source to come up with her seven in ten figure, but at the very least there is alternate data (Table 2 above, as well as here) showing something quite different than what she claims.

As I mentioned in my last post another claim she made is that we haven’t seen anything close to a 40-50% divorce rate:

Now, expert demographers continue to project that 40-50% of couples will get divorced – but it is important to remember that those are projections. And I’m skeptical because the actual numbers have never come close, and divorce rates continue to drop, not rise!

The same Census publication has a chart showing that as of 2009 the first marriage divorce rate for women leveled out at around 40%.  While the data points presented above have problems around potential deaths of the first spouse, this chart only calculates cumulative divorce rates for first marriages: (click for larger version)


If she had said the actual rate is closer to 40% than the 40-50% range often quoted, she would be on much more solid footing.  But her claim is that the divorce rate has never been anywhere near the 40-50% range, as well as stating that our average first marriage divorce rate is roughly 20-25%.  Neither of these claims can be correct unless there is a major problem with the data the Census Bureau used to compile the chart in Figure 5.

Update:  Reader Micha Elyi offered more detail from Feldhahn’s book.  I had the right table but the wrong calculation.  However, the numbers still don’t match.

This entry was posted in Church Apathy About Divorce, Data, Divorce, Shaunti Feldhahn. Bookmark the permalink.

48 Responses to Nowhere close to true.

  1. Anonymous Reader says:

    Good work on looking into sources, Dalrock. I realize that this is a popular book and not an article for a peer-reviewed journal, but still it seems to reflect pretty badly on the author and whoever she worked with at Barna that such obvious questions aren’t answered in the original article.

    If the same errors carry forward into the book it won’t do any good for either Feldhaun or Barna’s reputation. At best this is sloppy and someone – colleague at Barna, editor, or some other responsible adult – should have caught it prior to publication.

  2. Steve H says:

    And it seems that none of this data takes into account the preponderance of failed 2nd, 3rd, 4th (and so on) marriages – if we are to calculate the aggregate quantity of marriages that end in divorce. It seems to me that this metric must surpass a 50% of marriages which actually end in divorce if we properly account for this.

  3. Pingback: Does Shaunti Feldhahn’s rosy divorce data prove that no fault divorce is working out pretty well after all? | Dalrock

  4. Mark says:


    Good Post!….

    “”I’ve done a bit more digging for the source of the data Shaunti Feldhahn shared in the articles promoting her book””……………I knew that you would not let us ‘Dalrockian Disciples” down.

    I think she might be “cooking the data” in order to sell her books?…..From my personal observation here in Toronto,Ontario,Canada….your stats that you have provided here on your blog are accurate.You say that 50% of marriages end in divorce?….That is what I see also. Anon72 stated on your last post about a 78% divorce rate in California……I have consistently read 75% from other sources.You have done the same….and your personal observations probably conclude the data? My conclusion……she might be mathematically retarded?.After all,most women major in the “social sciences” in university……not STEM subjects….Which has been discussed at great length…..and is VERY ACCURATE!

  5. Mark says:

    @Steve H

    “”this data takes into account the preponderance of failed 2nd, 3rd, 4th (and so on) marriages””

    You have to wonder about people who get married 3,4 or 5 times.Some sort of a “mental block” somewhere!

  6. Anonymous age 72 says:

    Let me be technically correct. I could be wrong, but I don’t think i said the divorce rate was 78%. What I meant to say was that in that year, there were 780 divorces for each 1000 marriages that year.

    That looks like 78% but it may not be due to the one year only data. The divorce rate requires data over a long period. This is highly technical stuff, which is why smart people can disagree.

  7. Boxer says:

    You have to wonder about people who get married 3,4 or 5 times.Some sort of a “mental block” somewhere!

    You ain’t kidding! It’s the old saw about wise men learning from the mistakes of others, contrasted with the fools, who don’t even learn from their own mistakes.

  8. greyghost says:

    Outstanding TFH

  9. feeriker says:

    The lesson here is “don’t write a book the content and message of which rely heavily upon statistical analysis when you clearly don’t have a newborn infant’s grasp of statistics.”

    Epic fail, Shaunti. In the future try writing about something you actually have a clue about.

  10. Dalrock says:

    You have to wonder about people who get married 3,4 or 5 times.Some sort of a “mental block” somewhere!

    You ain’t kidding! It’s the old saw about wise men learning from the mistakes of others, contrasted with the fools, who don’t even learn from their own mistakes.

    It is interesting because according to the same data in Table 6, marrying three or more times is very uncommon. The highest stats for this show up in the 60-69 age bracket, with 8.5% of men and 6.2% of women having married three or more times. Even having a second marriage is pretty rare, with only 22.1% of men and 20.
    1% of women having married twice (same age group as for 3 or more). I would have guessed both were more common than they are. I obviously have a skewed personal sample.

  11. jf12 says:

    I’m kind of surprised at the only 40% being eventually divorced. I still think it’s closer to 50%.

  12. Elspeth says:

    I would have guessed both were more common than they are. I obviously have a skewed personal sample.

    Me as well apparently, but I think I mentioned that to you before. About the number of women I have personally known who married again later in life. Sometimes remarrying twice. Men as well. I wonder that the stats are so low, but stats don’t lie.

  13. Dalrock says:


    I’m kind of surprised at the only 40% being eventually divorced. I still think it’s closer to 50%.

    One thing I wonder about is how the impact of different mortality rates between those married and divorced biases the sample, especially later in life. We know for example that men who are divorced have higher mortality rates than married men. From what I’ve read this same thing isn’t true for women, but when you look at the data divorced women seem to shrink as a percentage of the oldest cohorts. It could be that this is simply because the oldest women spent their most divorce prone years in a time with much lower divorce rates. However, I’m not sure that is the whole story.

    The best metric would be one which followed a set of marriages from inception to either divorce or the death of one of the spouses and calculated the running divorce rate for the group. This is different than the SIPP data, where the initial sample is pulled in most cases long after the original weddings would have happened. Those who died before the first wave of the study simply don’t exist in the sample set (although their surviving spouse could still be included).

    Either way, MarcusD would be the man to answer this.

  14. Dalrock says:

    @Anon 72

    This is highly technical stuff, which is why smart people can disagree.

    True, and on top of that different samples and data sources can yield different answers. This is why I’m hesitant to say her stats are flat out wrong; it could be that she found a different data source (although it seems unlikely another source would be that far different). However, this is also why she is fundamentally incorrect; at best she found a stat or two which was far different from other measures of the same thing and ran with the headline that everyone else is getting it terribly wrong.

  15. Mark says:


    Thanks for the link!……awesome!

  16. Great Books For Men GreatBooksForMen GBFM (TM) GB4M (TM) GR8BOOKS4MEN (TM) lzozozozozlzo (TM) says:

    lzlzolzoz mathsz is suckz as mathemeticias sdis discrimatesz against womenez lzozolzo zloz zomg zlzozlzozo zozmzgz !


  17. donalgraeme says:

    Keep in mind that re-marrying might have demographic implications. Perhaps the general demographics of those you associate with, and are most familiar with, are those more likely to value marriage, and thus more likely to remarry after divorce. While other demographic groups could be less marriage inclined, and so after one failed marriage no longer re-marry. Also, I seem to recall that remarriage is less common than it used to be.

  18. gdgm+ says:

    While I’ve not read Feldhahn’s book, from what I’ve seen of it, stats on the Web, etc., I am concluding that she’s using one of these methods of mathematical proof, likely numbers 31 and 37.

  19. KB says:

    For my money, I would think that simply looking at the number of marriages that have ended (within a particular time frame, say a year for example) would be a good start. Then look individually at all of those ended marriages and see which ones ended in death, and which ones ended with divorce and aggregate.

    Then, I would, over time, start categorizing those marriages that ended (whether by death or divorce) by year they were consummated and voila, you have just started categorizing them into an understandable set.

    I’m not saying this method of aggregation is accurate, just that it would appear to me to be consistent.

  20. Vercingetorix says:

    Going way OTbecause I don’t know where else to go.

    I know he’s theologically wrong, but am having a hard time coming up with the reasons. And the Facebook comments are full of the typical responses from women. She’s tired as well, just control yourself, what if she’s taking care of the kids, excuses, excuses, excuses. Help, I feel like I’m losing my mind here and don’t know where else to go that can rationally discuss this.

  21. greyghost says:

    I like Anon72 For a time period 1000 marriages 780 divorces. Scree the bull that is enough for me. You can throw in all of the variables and accuracy you want 1000 guys committed and 780 guys had their lives screwed for feminism It may not mathematically be 78percent but is enough to show it is foolish and can only be done with blissful ignorance.

  22. feeriker says:

    greyghost says:July 10, 2014 at 6:45 pm

    While it’s true that these are figures for California for just one year, I see no reason to believe that they’re particularly anomalous. Perhaps the divorce rate percentage for this one year is a few points higher than in other years, but I would have to believe that the mean of aggregated data over a five or ten-year period would still reveal a divorce rate for California of at least 65 percent – in other words, nearly two-thirds of all marriages within the given timeframe.

  23. LiveFearless says:

    Her books are published by Random House LLC, the world’s largest english trade publisher. They are widely trusted.

  24. JDG says:

    My conclusion……she might be mathematically retarded?.After all,most women major in the “social sciences” in university……not STEM subjects

    My major was EET and required physics, chemistry, and calculus, and I’m terrible with stats. To me stats is in a world of it’s own.

  25. Anonymous age 72 says:

    Dalrock, when I said smart people can agree, I was not including that author of the bogus book, heh, heh.

    As far as the 780 of 1,000. One year does not show precise divorce rate. But, the more years the number of divorces stays at 780/1000 marriages the more probable that is the true divorce rate. But a sample of 1, while possibly correct in the long term, is not a reliable thing.

    Having said that, for strictly social and political reasons, my hunch is it is close. California is a sick state among sick states.

    I studied statistics and probabilities in some depth preparing for the CPA exam. I spent a lot of time playing with numbers, instead of just finding the formula and plugging in the numbers.

    But, most of the other students did in fact just plug into a formula.

  26. Anonymous age 72 says:

    >>It may not mathematically be 78percent but is enough to show it is foolish and can only be done with blissful ignorance.

    I assume greyghost meant marriage.

    I was talking yesterday with a man in the USA who wants to expat very much, but for valid reasons cannot do so at this time.

    I told him I am convinced that all thinking men must at least contemplate the thought of expatting from the USA as long as it is dangerous to be a man there.

    I realize many, probably most, cannot expat for one reason or another.

    Lack of adaptibility; health issues; lack of marketable skills needed to work in another nation; family ties such as children; fear of the unknown; lack of mental and moral strength; below average ability to learn a new language. All these and more reasons are 100% VALID reasons men cannot expat.

    But, to not even consider the possibility before rejecting it? Akkkk!!!

    No one should stay in a nation where they are considered to be of no value at all.

    I told him it is as if a slave on a plantation one night encountered Harriet Tubman walking by, and she said, “Come on, Dude, let’s go go to Canada.” And, he said, “Oh, no, I can’t. I’m skeered!”

  27. jf12 says:

    @Vercingetorix re: “Christ laid it out very clearly: if you lust after another woman, you have committed adultery.”

    That’s not theologically *wrong*, it’s merely incomplete. Christ said that that adultery was committed in your *heart*. All sin, theologically, is sin. And, as James 2:10 and other verses helpfully remind us, if we commit any sin then theologically we are guilty of all sins.

  28. Lyn87 says:

    LiveClueless writes, “Her books are published by Random House LLC, the world’s largest english trade publisher. They are widely trusted.”

    This is the same Random House LLC that prints the following:

    Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha
    The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching
    God and the Gay Christian The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships
    Angels and Saints: A Biblical Guide to Friendship with God’s Holy Ones
    The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation
    Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind
    Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief

    … and that is just a sampling from the first five pages of the “Religion and Spirituality” section of their website… There are a few hundred other books like those – all of which contradict each other. Shaunti Feldhahn has at least two books in that section herself. If you have 300 contradictory books, at least 299 of them are going to be wrong.

    All every one of those 299 wrong books is currently published by…

    … wait for it…

    Random House LLC, the world’s largest English trade publisher. But LiveClueless wants us to accept Feldhahn’s incorrect calculations because she’s published by Random House. Did the two of them have the same Math teacher?

  29. Boxer says:

    I believe RH also published the pornographic novel “Fifty Shades of Grey” as well.

    I don’t hate it because it’s pr0n, mind you, I hate it because it is written so poorly as to be utterly without literary merit at all — if you must read salacious stories, grab “Story of O” instead.

    Anyway, yeah. Random House. Lowering the collective intelligence of society, one dull book at a time…

  30. LiveFearless says:

    He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp posts — for support rather than for illumination.

    ~Andrew Lang

  31. embracing reality says:

    Meanwhile among the 59-72% of people who remain married to their first spouse how many of them are basically unhappily married overall? I’ve seen a number of studies about marital dissatisfaction that didn’t paint a very rosy picture at all. How many married people who go till’ death they do part’ ending up strangers living under one roof? Separate bedrooms, separate lives. How many of those men in particular would have been happier on their own? Feldhahn hasn’t convinced me that the men in her divorced “probably closer to 20-25%” range haven’t actually won this contest in the long run, even if only by default.

  32. Pingback: Nowhere close to true. | Truth and contradictio...

  33. BradA says:

    Happiness varies over time in even good marriages embracing, so I am not sure that is an ideal metric.

  34. ballista74 says:

    Marriage 1.0 Sexuality

    To summarize it from a theological standpoint, the religious feminists run to Matthew 5:27-28 to justify themselves in their position that pornography use is equivalent to going out, finding another woman outside of marriage, and then having intercourse with her. This “thought is the same as real action” hamster gymnastics is proven out to be false when it comes to a similar interpretation of Matthew 5:21-24. No one in Churchianity or in the world is advocating capital punishment for being angry at someone, and logically should not. One can not have intercourse with any form of pornography. In any of these things, proper and sane discernment is always a requirement.

    Also, look here for discussion on it.

  35. Tam the Bam says:

    A lazy squint at the issuers of this dross does indeed reveal that the trite, possibly plagiarised spank&wank fodder 50SOG was evacuated onto the market by, ultimately, Random House (Int’n’l), via its Cornerstone/Arrow operation.
    Arrow seem to specialise in this effluvia.
    Not only Primitive Feminists like Dorothy Dinnerstein, but also one of the most malicious, dishonest and incoherent of all … (trigger warning inserted here; don’t look, if you’ve just eaten).

    I dare say there are more lurking in the shrubbery. Tell Jeeves to fetch the Holland&Holland, would you?

  36. Vercingetorix says:

    Thanks all. I appreciate the guidance.

  37. Minesweeper says:

    “..married-men-your-porn-habit-is-an-adultery-habit” I know he’s theologically wrong,
    You are correct – he is theologically wrong and unfortunately are most of our translations. Drop down into the Greek to see what is actually said, there are various Greek to English tools available online.

    I can give you some more pointers but its always more revealing to discover the truth yourself plus this truth can be hard for some to take in. The hint I will give is that what Jesus is saying is to remove the workaround in the 10 commandments that some Jews are exploiting while thinking they are remaining pure within the law. Its actually not difficult to understand at all.

    Its mind boggling that its been translated in the way it has. But then alot of the statements regarding sex and sexuality appear to have been translated into what our Christian culture deems acceptable rather than what it actually says. This applies to both the Hebrew and the Greek.

  38. embracing reality says:

    “Happiness varies over time in even good marriages embracing, so I am not sure that is an ideal metric.”

    If happiness is not a measure of success in a marriage and can’t be expected more than half the time then we’re talking about a disincentive for single young men to even consider it. Add to this or perhaps expand upon this disincentive of unhappiness the rest of what modern wives have earned as a reputation; selfishness, manipulation, sexlessness, obesity etc. Any children will belong to the mother in the eyes of the law, she’ll most likely get the home, most of the assets and a good portion of her husbands future income should she lose interest in this ‘marriage’. I’ve seen all this unfold in the lives of married (now divorced) Christian men I know too many times, so have you. What would we argue about? There’s nothing to see here, it’s simple math. I’ve done well for myself in life taking carefully calculated risks. Nearly every time I’ve taken a foolish risk I’ve had my ass handed to me. The many churchian women I’ve dated we’re fools gold.

  39. embracing reality says:

    …were fools gold.

  40. Jibola says:

    Jesus. What does she stand to gain by lying/falsifying statistics?

  41. Random Angeleno says:

    @Dalrock, wondering if you or anyone else here has passed your data analysis on to Feldhahn? and of course whether she responded? Be interesting to read that dialogue.

    [D: I have not.]

  42. Redpillnewbie says:

    I left a comment about her stats on her site after the first article here, and have not found any response yet. I think she or her staff might just ignore and delete things they disagree with.

    I’ve read a few of her other popular books (but not this one), and struggle with the ‘Christian” ideas of loving women/wives by “buying them flowers” or doing a lot of other “nice” things for them. Even the “Love and respect” book says the same thing.

    Why do the best Christian marriage advice books advocate the “flowers and chocolate” approach to keeping marriages intact? It’s insanity!

  43. jf12 says:

    @Redpillnewbie re: “Why do the best Christian marriage advice books advocate the “flowers and chocolate” approach to keeping marriages intact?”

    Because that apex-fallacy advice is being sold to women. If women do want to keep a broken marriage together, then it is because their husband is an uncaring lout who has affairs. In that situation, it would help the marriage if he cared enough to bring flowers and chocolate.

  44. Why do the best Christian marriage advice books advocate the “flowers and chocolate” approach to keeping marriages intact?

    Because they take it as a matter of bedrock faith that everything is the man’s fault. Even when something is clearly her fault — she has an affair with his best friend — they can find a way to frame it as his fault — he didn’t love her the right way or enough. So any “fixing” the marriage has to start with him apologizing for the fact that he damaged it in the first place, and begging her to give him a chance to do better.

  45. theasdgamer says:

    @ Tam the Bam

    Jeeves reports that the H&H is at the smith being repaired. He is fetching the Purdy and the Boss (in case you had mates over and wanted to share in the sport).

  46. Enjoyed your post. I too am doubting and double-checking this author’s claims.

  47. Pingback: Tucker Carlson’s dangerous wedge. | Dalrock

  48. Pingback: Why are modern Christians so delighted with current divorce rates? | Dalrock

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