Problems with State Divorce Numbers

Item from the Smart Marriages Archive, reproduced in the Divorce Statistics Collection

[from a message by Mike McManus]

1. The last time I saw a state-by-state ranking of all states was
1994 by the National Center for Health Statistics. In that ranking
Tennessee was #4, with only Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Nevada suffering from
higher rates. In that year, the U.S. had a 4.6 divorces per 1,000
residents. Tennessee had 34,167 divorces for a total rate of 6.6, about
43% above the U.S. while Oklahoma's rate was 6.7 (21,855) and Arkansas,
(17,458) and Nevada, 9.0 (13,061).
2. In preparation for a speech in Arkansas on Oct. 23 at the
Governor's Conference on the Family, I doubled checked Arkansas's numbers
for 1998. Its divorces had fallen to 15,378. Its estimated population in
1998 was 2,538,303, giving it a 6.1 rate, below that of Wyoming, Indiana,
Alabama and Idaho in the 1994 ranking. (I did not recalculate each of them for 1998.)
3. Tennessee's numbers grew slightly in 1998, from 34,167 in 1994
to 34,509. That is a 6.4 rate. Meanwhile, the U.S. rate fell to 4.2
rate. Thus, Tennessee is 52.4% higher than the U.S. a fairly big jump from
its figure in 1994 that was 43% higher than the U.S.
4. Oklahoma's number of divorces fell from 21,855 to 19,971, and
its rate fell from 6.7 to 6.0. That puts it behind Tennessee.
5. Nevada's divorces grew from 13,061 to 14,918. However, I do
not have a 1998 estimated population number. Assuming it is still the
nation's highest rate, because the state encourages tourists with a quickie
divorce law -- Tennessee would appear to be the second worst state.
6. These rankings are problematical for several reasons. Indiana
and California have not tallied up their number of divorces since 1987, nor
Louisiana, since 1983. Texas stopped counting in 1997. This is, of
course, ridiculous. The counties or parishes in these states continue to
gather the data. How difficult would it be to add up county data and fill
in recent numbers? The National Center for Health Statistics has
eliminated five employees who were developing divorce data, such as this
state-by-state rankings, the age at which people divorce, the number of
children affected, etc.
7. I discovered that the estimated U.S. total number of divorces
had a sponge factor built into it. In its first estimate of the number of
divorces for 1998, was 955,000 -- an apparent plunge from 1,163,000 in
1997. When I tried to find even a single state with such a big plunge, I
could not find one. I asked NCHS for information to explain the plunge,
and found that there was a "correction factor" for previous differences
between provisional data and final figures. Since "recent final data are
no longer available to calculate correction factors," this is the last year
that the estimated U.S. figure will contain an adjustment to arrive at a
1,135,000 figure for 1998. So be prepared for stories next year that
appear to show a big drop in the divorce rate for the U.S. that is as
bogus as the original numbers for 1998.
8. Texas stopped counting its numbers in 1998. There were 95,284
divorces in 1997. That is a very big number.
Therefore, I conclude that the last credible number of divorces for
the U.S. is 1,163,000 for 1997, not the (adjusted) estimate of 1,135,000
for 1998 or the unadjusted total of 955,000. Either figure is misleading
compared to earlier numbers.
9. There were 1,179,000 divorces in 1979 and 1,163,000 for 1997, a
decline of only 1.36% in that 19 year period. (The divorce rate fell a
bit more, due an increase of population.)
10. Since the Census is not asking about marital status of every
household for the 2000 count, as it has for decades, we will have no new
credible data.
All of this is a scandal, and worthy of a Congressional
investigation. Why does the Clinton Administration care so little about
this major measure of the health or sickness of American families. Some
Members of the Cabinet, like the Secretary of HHS ought to be forced to
answer the question on the record.
There is only one bit of good news in all of this. Thanks to the
leadership of First Things First, which prompted Chattanooga to organize a
Community Marriage Policy in that city in February, 1997. There are now 129
churches which have signed the CMP in Chattanooga, thorough the leadership
of Terry Power, Director of Marriage Savers of Chattanooga. In the year
immediately, before the signing, there were 2,225 divorces. That figure
has fallen to 1,846 for the same months of the year 1998-99. "That is a 17%
drop in a two year period. This means 693 fewer couples have filed for
divorce in that time," says Terry Power.
Compare that 17% drop in two years with the 1.3% drop over 19
years of the U.S. It is 13 times better than the U.S. decline in about one
tenth of the time.
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