The Divorce Myth

I want to start my week guest blogging by talking about divorce. Betsey Stevenson and
I had an
op-ed in yesterday’s New York Times
noting a very simple fact: those
married in the 1990s have proved less likely to divorce than those wed in the
1980s, which were less likely to divorce than those wed in the 1970s. The
Divorce Facts are that divorce is falling, and marriages are more stable

What is surprising, is just how easily and how often the
Divorce Facts lose out to the Divorce Myth. The Divorce Myth is that divorce
is rising
. 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,
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?

  1. Blame the
    public for underestimating divorce
    : Tyler
    has argued
    that Americans “underestimate the probability of divorce”, and
    so when the statistics show that divorce is quite common, they infer divorce
    must have risen.
  2. Blame the
    public for overestimating divorce
    : Greg
    Mankiw thinks
    that this “seems be an example of what Bryan Caplan calls ‘the
    pessimistic bias’, a tendency to overestimate the severity of economic problems.”
  3. Blame the
    : Mankiw may be a bit unfair on Joe Citizen: the average person gets
    their news from the press, and in this case, the press reported falsehoods as
  4. Blame the
    : We argued that “Reporting on our families is a lot like reporting
    on the economy: statistical tales of woe provide the foundation for reform
    proposals. The only difference is that
    conservatives use these data to make the case for greater government
    intervention in the marriage market, while liberals use them to promote
    deregulation of marriage.”
  5. Blame the
    : Academics are meant to provide the facts offsetting the
    political hacks. But we don’t. Economists have had too little respect for
    simple facts; publication glory lies with grand theories. Ideologically-motivated profs teaching family
    sociology or family law would rather reinforce the Myth than offset it.

Personally, I go for #4 causing #3, unchecked by #5, and
would love to see research by Bryan testing #1 v. #2.  Your thoughts?


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