But here is the thing: It is no longer true that the divorce rate is rising, or that half of all marriages end in divorce. It has not been for some time. Even though social scientists have tried to debunk those myths, somehow the conventional wisdom has held.
Despite hand-wringing about the institution of marriage, marriages in this country are stronger today than they have been in a long time. The divorce rate peaked in the 1970s and early 1980s and has been declining for the three decades since.
If only this were true. Even the links provided ostensibly debunking the “myth” of a 50% divorce rate don’t back up the claim. The first one argues that pinning down a single divorce rate stat is difficult, and then explains that for the subset of the US which graduated college divorce rates are much lower than the overall average. I explained the same thing in my post Whistling through the graveyard? two years ago when Susan Walsh made the same basic claim about high divorce rates being a myth. Ironically, the second link in the quote above is to one of the sources I quoted in my graveyard post:
Dr. Larry Bumpass, an emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Demography and Ecology, has long held that divorce rates will eventually reach or exceed 50 percent. In an interview, he said that it was “probably right” that the official divorce statistics might fall below 50 percent, but that the rate would still be close.
“About half is still a very sensible statement,” he said.
Likewise the claim that divorce rates have been declining since the early 1980s goes against the best data we have. As I explained back in 2012, for a long time the US divorce rate appeared to be declining, but the trend occurred as more and more states were no longer part of the data set:
Eventually there was a new source of data from the American Community Survey which measured divorce across the entire country, and the National Center for Family & Marriage Research (NCFMR) at Bowling Green State University used this data to conclude that divorce rates had remained constant in the US for the last 20 years:
The overall U.S. divorce rate has remained essentially unchanged over the past 20 years. In 1990, 19 people divorced for every 1,000 marrieds versus 18 per 1,000 in 2010.
When the NCFMR released this conclusion I reached out to the Director of the National Marriage Project, W. Bradford Wilcox for his comment on the ACS data set. Dr. Wilcox replied:
Thanks for your note. Because the ACS data provides a more geographically comprehensive portrait of current divorce trends than does the data from the National Center for Health Statistics, the National Marriage Project is considering switching to ACS data in the 2012 edition of the State of Our Unions.
The Marriage Project followed through and switched to the ACS data for their 2012 State of Our Unions report.
Of the two claims the NY Times article leads with regarding divorce, both are easily provable as false. The first claim (50% divorce rate “myth”) is refuted by the very sources the article links to, one of which is another NY Times article. The second claim is itself the dated “myth”, which is disproved by US Census American Community Survey, a data set which has been accepted by both the NCFMR and the National Marriage Project.
This leaves the remaining claim of the article, that divorce isn’t really a problem because college educated women aren’t divorcing at the same high rates as other women. This is the NY Times doing it’s well worn Marie Antoinette imitation; our new family structure seems to be working ok for the UMC, so why are the lower classes unhappy? The obvious problem is that a family system which works only for the UMC is a colossal failure by the standards of all but the most snobbish observer. But there is a problem with even the bright ray in the data the NY Times has globbed onto. UMC women are marrying later, and since divorce rates decline dramatically as women age the divorce rate is actually rising on an age adjusted basis.
With the refuting evidence so easy to locate, this leaves me wondering why the NY Times would bother trying to convince the public that divorce is no longer really a problem. My best guess is that our secular elites are beginning to become nervous about the difficulty our ever increasing population of never married women are just starting to experience finding grooms. As a result, the secular elites at the NY Times seem to find themselves compelled to peddle the same nonsense modern Christians are selling. If this is the case, the interesting thing is that we have only just begun seeing any kind of a measurable trend here. If the elites are nervous now, I can only imagine how they will respond if we start to see significant numbers of White women unable to marry.
There is also the problem that this is a risky strategy if the goal is to coax more men into modern marriage. The upside is limited because much of the problem comes from the growing shortage of men with good earnings. The only way to truly fix this would be to go back in time and have the now panicked 30 something husband hunters spend their youth looking for a provider instead of cads. But while the upside is very limited, the risk is that by opening the conversation they draw attention to the very problem they are attempting to deny. This is already happening, with The Week writing a rebuttal: Sorry, New York Times: The state of marriage in America is not good
Even the Times article itself lets the cat out of the bag by admitting that the divorce revolution is being driven by women not honoring their wedding vows:
“Two-thirds of divorces are initiated by women,” said William Doherty, a marriage therapist and professor of family social science at University of Minnesota, “so when you’re talking about changes in divorce rates, in many ways you’re talking about changes in women’s expectations.”
Whether this was an honest attempt to set the record straight on divorce rate statistics or an attempt to assuage men’s well founded apprehensions about marriage, either way the NY Times piece is an abysmal failure. Our new family model is fundamentally broken, and no amount of happy talk or attempts to fudge the numbers will make this go away.