Wednesday, June 30, 2010

For my anniversary, some statistics on marriage and divorce

This week marks the third anniversary of my wedding to my beautiful wife Shanna. To honor our commitment to one another, I dug up some data to investigate how unusual our 3-year marriage is. Although my quick search didn't turn up much reliable duration data, I found some interesting tables on marriage rates and divorce rates (# of each event per thousand people) from the Division of Vital Statistics.

To me, the most striking thing about the divorce data is how -- for all but three states -- the divorce rate has declined from 1990 to 2007. What happened in the other three states? In New Jersey, Maine, and Connecticut, the divorce rate was the same in 2007 as it was in 1990.

Does that mean that more marriages today are successful marriages? Not so fast.* A quick scan of the marriage data reveals a similar (maybe even more dramatic) decline. Only two states had higher marriage rates in 2007 than in 1990: West Virginia and Hawaii. West Virginia was virtually the same in the two years (7.2 in 1990, 7.3 in 2007), while Hawaii was much higher. The increase in Hawaii is probably because Hawaiian beach weddings have become more popular.

So, are we an unusual couple? Yes. In an era when marriage is on the decline regardless of the state, we actually tied the knot. As for the three-years-and-counting duration, it still feels like we are newlyweds. Here's hoping that we can follow in my parents' footsteps and get to 40 happy years together and beyond!

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*One would have to compute something like "divorces per marriage" and track this over time to get a sense for whether marriages are becoming more or less successful (if "not getting divorced" is a measure of success). The table provides enough information to do this in a crude way. Dividing the divorce rate by the marriage rate yields:

(Divorce Rate)/(Marriage Rate) = (# of divorces/1000s of people)/(# of marriages/1000s of people).

This measure isn't perfect (as a low divorce/marriage ratio today says very little about the quality of today's marriages, and it might just represent changes in the number of marriages over time), and I am sure that other better data sources exist on the state of marriage.

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