By America’s #1 Love and Marriage Experts.

There is an old saying among those who specialize in statistical data, and it goes like this – “Statistics are for liars and damn liars.” The famous Missourian, Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) said it even better when he opined “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so!”

More on these notions later. Meanwhile, back at the ranch.

We recently read an article entitled, “Gray Divorce: Why Are More Seniors Separating?” by a psychotherapist by the name of Dr. Robi Ludwig. It was, we believe, a misguided article that posited, “Seniors are getting divorced at an increasingly alarming rate.” The problem is, what she stated “for sure,” “just ain’t so!”

We read a similar article on FOX Business that expressed a related notion. The New York Times ran a piece in March 2012 with questionable conclusions based on the same data. Additional articles with inaccurate statistical deductions have appeared in other venues. In virtually all cases, we are reminded of the notion that “statistics are for liars and damn liars.” We are always amazed at the way writers will distort statistical data, often to support their biased point of view!

Here is a simple notion to think about. The divorce rate has been going down since the early 1980’s. That’s not a notion you hear from the national media – the divorce rate is actually going down in America! And frankly, the national divorce rate for first-time marriages is NOT 50% as is often reported. Our research has determined that divorce rate for first-time marriagess is actually between 35% and 40%. This means more than 60% of first-time marriages are successful. And the percentage of success among older Americans is even higher!

Moreover, we know from crunching the numbers that the divorce rate for older Americans (those over 60) is currently VERY LOW compared to the general population! But remember our earlier admonition – “statistics are for liars and damn liars.” So, friends, it stands to reason that “older” people, who have been around a lot longer than “younger” people will have an overall divorce rate over their lifetime that is inflated by the mere fact that they have been around longer than say, an 18 year old. Well, you get our drift.

Pinning down the exact divorce rate in America is certainly complicated. Many studies have been done, many numbers crunched, and many conclusions drawn. But the truth of the matter is that the national per capita divorce rate has declined steadily since its peak in 1981. The fact that the per capita divorce rate has declined should be cause for celebration!

Secondly, there are a number of factors that can reduce the divorce rate, and rather than dwelling on the perceived chances of failure of a marriage we should be looking for reasons why most marriages do not fail – do not end in divorce. This notion is particularly true among older Americans.

Here are the facts:

1. 81% of women who get divorced get divorced before the age of 30. Two-thirds of those get divorced before age 25.

2. 73% of men who get divorced get divorced before the age of 30. Half of those get divorced before the age of 25.

3. 94% of women who get divorced get divorced before the age of 40.

4. 90% of men who get divorced get divorced before the age of 40.

5. Depending whether you are male or female, only 6-10% of you will get divorced after the age of 39.

6. The percentage of people getting divorced as “Senior’s” – those getting divorced when they are 60+ years of age – is probably less than 2% by any reliable estimate based on the known data.

The truth is people get divorced in their 20’s and 30’s in overwhelming numbers, not in their 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s!

Now, back to our original notion.

Why would someone posit the distorted notion of an “alarming” increase in the divorce rate among “graying Americans” given the facts? As Mark Twain might say, such a notion “Just ain’t so.”

Let’s do simple math. If you multiply 2 times 2 you get four – a small number. If you multiple 20 times 20 you get 400. The lesson here is this – the smaller the numbers you multiply the smaller the effect – the smaller the impact of the resulting number. The larger the numbers you multiply, the larger the numbers you get. And remember the line from the old song that goes, “Nothin’ times nothin’ is nothin’!

Our point here is this – a “doubling” of the divorce rate among senior’s results in an extremely small number – a relatively insignificant number. If less than 2% of seniors get divorced then a doubling of the divorce rate among this group from 1% to 2% is an insignificant number compared to other age groups.

In the end, about one-third of the people in the USA between the ages of 33 and 72 will get divorced in their lifetime. Yet, the best estimates are that less than one in four seniors over the age of 72 have ever been divorced in their lifetime.

If someone concludes that the divorce rate among seniors is “alarming” they are either lying to you or misrepresenting the data they are looking at. Those who write about the “alarming” increase in the divorce rate of “seniors” are guilty of that famous Shakespearean phrase, “Much ado about nothing.”

In love and marriage the simple things matter. Love well!

By Dr. Charles D. Schmitz and Dr. Elizabeth A. Schmitz

For marriage advice and hundreds of practical tips, get the Doctor’s best-selling and multiple-award winning book Building a Love that Lasts: The Seven Surprising Secrets of Successful Marriage (Jossey-Bass/Wiley) Available wherever books are sold.
Winner of the INDIE Book Awards GOLD Medal for Best Relationship Book
Winner of the Mom’s Choice Awards GOLD Medal for Most Outstanding Relationships and Marriage Book

Author's Bio: 

As America’s #1 Love and Marriage Experts and award-winning authors, Drs. Charles and Elizabeth Schmitz help international audiences answer questions about love, marriage and relationships. With 30 years of research on love and successful marriage across six continents of the world and their own 45-year marriage, the Doctors know what makes relationships work.

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