Arnold Kling  

Justin Wolfers on Divorce

Gavin Kennedy, Adam Smith, and... GMU Economics...

Guest-blogging at Marginal Revolution, Wolfers writes,

When the latest divorce numbers came out last week, they once again confirm this quarter-century long decline in divorce, but the media (including the Times, Post, and the Inquirer) chose instead to write (incorrectly) about rising divorce. (In their defense, the data were presented in a way that invited misinterpretation, a subject that I shall return to in a future post.)

Why the persistence of the Divorce Myth?

I wonder what he thinks of Kay Hymowitz's view, which is that divorce is dropping among the college-educated, but remaining high or rising for those with less education.

I think that one of the explanations for the problem is poor statistical reasoning on the part of many people, including those who report the divorce numbers. I suspect that poor statistical reasoning may also be behind the "fact" that the U.S. does relatively poorly in international longevity comparisons. As with the divorce numbers, the challenge is that we do not know the whole story for the most recent cohorts. We do not know how many couples married in 1990 have (will) stayed married for 25 years. Similarly, we do not know how much the longevity of people born in 1970 has increased relative to that of people born in 1930. Maybe Wolfers will undertake a rigorous analysis of the latter issue.

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CATEGORIES: Political Economy

COMMENTS (4 to date)
Richard Pointer writes:

Thinking about this fact is incredible. I mean I could live to 120!!! Lets hope the latent improvement is huge.

meep writes:

Well, we know the relative mortality rates for the first 35 years of their that's something.

By the way, actuarial societies do extensive mortality studies from time to time, especially with regards to mortality improvements. Yes, extrapolation is involved, but one can look at calendar year effects to predict stuff about cohort year effects.

Chris Collins writes:

I think divorce is a really big problem in the US and I am glad to see that the rates are dropping. I cannot speak from first hand experience seeing that my parents are still together, but I can speak from seeing what my friends have gone through when there parents divorce and it is very painful for all. So I am happy to hear that the rates are dropping even though they still remain high overall.

Carla Smith writes:

Most interesting data indeed. However, the only part I don't buy is Wolfers' defense of the Times, Post and Inquirer in that "the data were presented in a way that invited misinterpretation." I preferred his former statement in which he states that they "chose instead to write (incorrectly)". I believe that statement is more correct. The other statement is about as likely as those funny cartoons they put out around the time of the Florida "miscount" situation when they drew a picture of a ballot with "Bush" and then "Gore" and then squiggly lines all over the ballot that finally ended at a box to check after having to follow a maze of a line. Is it really that hard to misinterpret something that is so clear? Is it impossible for them to have a researcher to be sure that the information that these MAJOR press groups are putting out is correct? This, among many other reasons, is why I do not, for the most part, trust mass media anymore.

At least there is some optimism in the world today or at least those trying to prove that it should exist after showing the numbers as in economist Stephen Moore's book: "It's Getting Better All The Time (100 Greatest Trends of the Last 100 Years)." Hopefully more books like this will continue to flood the shelves so that people may be more encouraged when they learn about the world today, especially regarding our country, rather than discouraged as just about everyone I know feels after watching the nightly news or after reading the headlines of The New York or Los Angeles Times. Too bad they have to report so much negativity when a president is in office whom they despise, yet let a Democrat reign in office once again and they will shout from the mountaintops how wonderful the economy is and so on. Hopefully people will begin to use the law of declining marginal utility when it comes to negative news as it seems that they already are as they continue to become tired of the same old story. Perhaps we shall finally see and hear of more news stories and numbers that would be molded after the likes of the great Paul Harvey with "The Rest of the Story."

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