Are Divorces Up or Down? Should We Care?

Josef Stalin is credited with saying, “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” The implication is that statistics are easy to dismiss. Even if they deal with human tragedy, statistics almost instantly become data that disappears in the wind.

Divorce is an issue that seems to defy that premise, though. On one hand, there is an abundance of references in the media and in social policy debates about statistics that indicate half of all marriages end in divorce and that the problem is getting worse. At the same time, we posted last month about research suggesting that divorces aren’t as prevalent as all that.

The reality is that there really is no reliable federal data available to tell us what the divorce landscape really looks like.  In Maryland the State Department of Health collects statistics of marriages recorded in the state.  All people being divorced are required to complete forms which are forwarded by the court to the “statistic collectors” at the Department of Health.  When you read about the divorce rate in Maryland, that is the source.     Recently, the U.S. Census Bureau proposed deleting some marriage and divorce-related questions from its annual American Community Survey. The rationale given was that the information gathered is of little value and it would be inexpensive to get rid of them.

In what some say is a case of strange bedfellows being made, the proposal has reportedly brought academics — many of whom are thought to be of a liberal bent — and groups with conservative social agendas together to fight the bureau’s move.

Experts from the various camps say it would be a big mistake to drop the divorce questions. They observe that effects of divorce and its related legal concerns, such as property division, child support and child custody, have a way of rippling well beyond just individual families. The results can be felt across economic, social and cultural strata.

They say that and the fact that the divorce-related information in the ACS is largely responsible for spotting many of the family law trends in recent years makes keeping the questions in the survey.

What are your thoughts? Should we care about the divorce rate?

Source: CNN Money, “Should we stop tracking the divorce rate?” Kathryn Vasel, Jan. 8, 2015