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New study shows divorce continues to rise

The common wisdom that divorce rates have gone down since 1980 is based on faulty data from government surveys, says a new study.
Fri Apr 4, 2014 - 3:18 pm EST

HENNEPIN, MN, April 4, 2014 (LifeSiteNews.com) -- A new study shows that Baby Boomers are continuing to keep America's divorce rate at record highs.

According to a study entitled "Breaking Up Is Hard to Count" by University of Minnesota's Sheela Kennedy and Steven Ruggles, the common wisdom that divorce rates have gone down since 1980 is based on faulty data from government surveys. Ruggles and Kennedy instead argue that while the divorce rate has stayed approximately the same, the "risk of divorce" has gone up significantly.

In an interview with LifeSiteNews, Ruggles said, "When we controlled for the age distribution of the married population, the risk of divorce has gone up by 40 percent." He says this is because Baby Boomers, who started the change from stability to high rates of divorce when they were young, are divorcing at enormous rates despite their advancing years.

Ruggles, who heads the Minnesota Population Center at the University of Minnesota, calls this the "graying of divorce." He says that while young people are still at risk of divorce, fewer marry, and the size of the Baby Boomer generation has increased the average age of divorce significantly.  

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Why did it take over 30 years for such a significant error in public understanding of divorce to be corrected? According to Ruggles, it's because the two surveys people relied on, the Vital Records and Survey of Income and Program Participation, "deteriorated" due to a "lack of government funding."

"We are fortunate that the government recognized this" deterioration, says Ruggles. "They added a whole battery of questions about divorce to the American Community Survey [in 2008] that we argue are very high-quality. They show, I think, persuasively, that the trends are very different than what we thought."

"The result is that people thought divorce had declined substantially over the last thirty years, but it hasn't," Ruggles said, adding that the number of divorces per thousand people has been "about stable for thirty years."

According to a blog post published by the Institute for Family Studies, the government data collection effort hasn't always been bad -- "there were occasional periods of our history, including between the years 1960 and 1990, when we were pretty good at that," says the post's author, Kay Hymowitz -- but generally data has not been of good quality for over 15 years.

"In 1996 the federal government lost interest in the whole enterprise and stopped providing financial support for detailed state collection," according to Hymowitz. "By 2005, six states including Georgia, Minnesota, and California—California!—stopped reporting entirely."

Even the Ruggles/Kennedy study does not tell the whole story of America's divorce problem, though. Unmarried young people, who often cohabitate instead of or before marriage, are increasingly having children out of wedlock. Nearly half of first children are born out of wedlock, and those who cohabitate before marriage are less likely to see the value of marriage and more likely to have issues as a couple, including those related to loyalty and children.


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