One of the blogs tumbling into my Blog Lines account on daily basis is the New York Times‘ “Freakonomics.” Justin Wolfers posted “Assessing Your Divorce Risk” and provided a link to Divorce 360. I was immediately intrigued, for how can one quantify something as personal and diverse as divorce?
This site provides people with information and support for all stages of divorce. I’m not thinking about a divorce — or even close to it — but I was fascinated with the idea of the “Marriage Calculator” widget. When I filled out the necessary fields, I learned the following:
People with similar backgrounds who are already divorced: 4%
People with similar backgrounds who will be divorced over the next five years: 7%
It sounds like the wife and I have little to no chance for divorce, according to this widget. However, it includes the caveat/explanation that “In general for the five-year divorce prediction rates, those with less than 3 percent are at lower risk, 3 – 7 percent are of average risk and more than 7 percent are at higher risk.”
So we’re at average risk for a divorce.
What would go into calculating this rate? As the page loaded and I clicked across to another tab, I gave it a little thought. Surely age at marriage will count. Length of time we’ve been married would also be important, I reasoned. But beyond that, I couldn’t think of anything that might really give any sort of indication regarding divorce.
Fiscal strains present in the marriage? Nah — thousands of marriages survived the Depression and few people in the States are suffering at a level anywhere near that.
What about how long we’d known each other before getting married? A spur-of-the-moment (relatively or literally speaking) decision might be at a higher risk than those who’d taken their time in getting to know each other. At the same time, how would you quantify that for such a survey?
What they ask for, though, is simple: gender, education level, age when married, years married, and period of time when the respondent got married.
Wolfers points out how many just assume “the risk is zero,” and I’ll admit, I still feel that way, even after having taken the survey.
It makes me wonder about the legitimacy of the survey, though. Certainly there are indicators for a higher risk for divorce, but how can anyone determine an “average” risk?
Truth is, I can’t imagine a scenario that might put so many strains our my marriage that we might talk about divorcing: the death of a child can lead to divorce, I believe. Yet there have to be other factors, for not everyone who suffers the loss of a child divorces.
If two people are determined to stay together, to make a relationship work even in the face of a tragedy that tears some couples apart, then statistical analysis is useless. The risk for them is zero, because they’ve both said as much. If two people are determined to make a marriage work, and the success and happiness of their marriage is a major goal in their life and not just something that’s bumping along for the ride, with the mortgage and insurance payments, then it seems to me that all other numbers are useless.
Those other factors that lead me to believe that this is basically worthless. All it says is that you fit into this or that demographic stastic; that’s not the same as risk.