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.