Fifty percent of marriages end in divorce. Or, do they? This question came up recently during a recent discussion among sociologists at my university about the big business of divorce. Law firms, gossip magazines, Vegas entrepreneurs, and even party planners make enormous sums of money off relationships gone bad. Let’s take a closer look.
Marriage and Divorce Rates
According to the CDC, which unexpectedly tracks marriage and divorce rates over the past 15 years, 3.2 marriages per 1,000 people resulted in a divorce or annulment during 2014. This is an all-time low over the tracked period, beginning in the year 2000 with 4.0/1,000 ending this way. Another interesting trend from these data is that the marriage rate is down also. There were 2,140,272 marriages reported in 2014, which is about 6.9 per 1,000 people. This is down from 8.2/1000 from the year 2000.
What does this mean? Are people getting divorced less, or are there just less people married to get a divorce? Are people getting married less often because they’re being more careful, or are folks too busy to meet people? Perhaps there’s less pressure to get married today. The dangerous thing about data is that it simply shows you a trend, it doesn’t explain causal relationships and it often hides lurking or confounding variables. We all must be careful not to drawn inferences from data like these, and recognize that it only reveals a trend. Further, what about trends prior to the year 2000? Sadly, many attention seeking reporters would have irresponsibly used one of those aforementioned click-baity headlines, and the article may have failed to mentioned flaws in any of the methodology.
Do 50% of Marriages Really End in Divorce?
The New York Times did a piece on this back in 2014, showing that the divorce surge of the 70’s and 80’s is long gone. So, what’s driving this decline? Turns out, it’s education. “Researchers say that the small drop in the overall divorce rate is caused by a steep decline in the rate among college graduates. As a result, a ‘divorce divide ‘has opened up between those with and without college degrees,” said Dr. Steven P. Martin, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Maryland. “Families with highly educated mothers and families with less educated mothers are clearly moving in opposite directions,” he continued. As for whether half of all marriages actually end in divorce, according Divorcerate.org it’s currently 41% among first marriages and it gets higher the more practice (divorces) you get. So, what does this mean for the big business of divorce?
The Big Business of Divorce
Aside from the obvious – law firms – divorce is a surprisingly important driver of the economy. The Huff Po has an entire category full of articles for divorce parties. Everything from “Divorce Party Etiquette” to “Six Ideas for an Awesome Divorce Party.” You can find dozens of divorce party ideas on Pinterest and here are websites loaded with divorce party supplies for sale. Even places you wouldn’t think of make profit from divorce. One woman blew holes in her wedding dress at a gun shooting range, thanks to a divorce party planning company in Vegas.
It’s Not All Great For The Economy
There’s a great article by Investopedia about how divorce can adversely affect the economy. In it, they claim healthy marriages positively influence the economy, whereas divorces negatively impact it. They cite increased household resources (twice as many homes, electric bills, etc.) as being the major driving factor. Of course, like most journalism these days, they leapt to a conclusion without citing sources or data. There is, however, one statement difficult to dispute – that married people tend to be wealthier. Again, is this because college educated couples are less likely to divorce? Or some other reason – like increased buying power or less wealth lost in a divorce? Without more data, it’s all just speculation. Care to speculate in the comments?