Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Demographic Wormhole

Human nature is a fabulous thing. If you want proof, take a look at some divorce statistics.

My perspective is pretty skewed when it comes to marriage. My parents are divorced. I divorced at age 29, the average age of female "first divorce" in America. Of the three people I ate dinner with Saturday, two are separated, the third is my boyfriend. (Who I am sure was quite impressed by the stat-citing, timeline expertise and legal wrangling of the Divorceketeers at the table.) Many of my high school and college friends are divorced or separated. I am the center of a bizarre demographic wormhole that sucks marriages and finances orthodontia for lawyer's daughters everywhere.

Pair the wormhole with the fact I'm a former pollster. I while away the hours researching divorce statistics on the Internet. The one that gets cited the most, with the least evidence? Half of all marriages fail. Hrm, not quite.

Forty percent of all first marriages end in divorce. Of those, half end in the first five years - so if you can make it five years, the gods of statistics will most likely let death do you part.

Second marriages have a failure rate of about 60 percent. Third marriages fail 70% of the time, and once you move into Liz Taylor territory, your chances of a successful marriage approach lottery winner/struck by lightning levels.

So, back to human nature: not only do we NOT learn from our mistakes, the harder we try, the more we screw up. And on that cheery note, commenters, toss in your favorite statistic. Or bemoan no-fault divorce, the greatest invention of the 20th century. No-fault is the sliced bread of the New America.


Anonymous said...

Not statistically supported, but anecdotally: Five of my friends from undergrad or grad school and I all divorced within a two year period. All of us did the following:
Purchased shiny new sports car, obnoxious SUV, or otherwise inappropriate vehicle
Purchased the largest television (porn machine) known to man
Heard “last-call” far too often
Dated just about anyone in a skirt

The best of times, the worst of times.

Tina said...

I also divorced at 29 but I had been married 8 years so I define and defy the stats you have so far. I think no fault divorce sucks. I'm remarried and happily so but I'm not convinced my first divorce was necessary. If we had been compelled to work a little harder at it would we have split? I honestly don't think so. There was no fundamental unsolvable problem in our case. I fought the divorce for almost a year - trying to insist on counseling first but guess what – you may not be able to get married without a license and your permission but under no fault law you can be divorced for no reason at all and with out your agreement.

At this point I would nto change things. I love my husband and am happy with my life as it is. But I still look back at that "failed" marriage and think something that serious deserved more of a commitment.

Shannon said...

Restaurant Refugee, yeah, I think everybody says, "You know, now that I'm married, I can buy whatever I want!" Men get big TVs, fancy cars, and tacky black leather furniture.

Tina, I support no-fault because people going through a divorce are miserable enough - I don't see any reason to pile on. For me, a spouse's refusal to attend counseling would send a pretty strong message that the marriage is over. And I think, just like any other breakup, divorce doesn't have to be mutual. We can't keep people with us against their will. But I do agree many people get married and divorced for very silly reasons (and I am far from perfect in that regard).

Jamie said...

I think I disagree with your conclusion. It's not that we try harder. It's that we DON'T try as hard as we get older.... I believe that's why marriages fail more often as the counter clicks up. My only one (so far) lasted 7 years before I got divorced, so I guess I bucked the stats there. But I think people get jaded through bad relationships as they get older and are less and less willing to take chances on something that will probably end in another heartbreak, or compromise to fit someone else into their life.

Though, the ones my age who've never been married are far more like this than the divorced ones. I think this is simply a matter of them having spent a lot more time as a single person, engaging in failed relationship after failed relationship, than someone who's been married.

I can completely support restaurantrefugee's observation. I resembled that remark for a while. Maybe still do. Though luckily I had already bought said sports car before I got divorced so I only had to pay for half of it.

Shannon said...

Hi Jamie! Didn't know you were a member of Team Divorce. Did you also buy a PS3 and a black leather recliner?

I agree that one of the challenges of dating in your 30s and beyond is that you get very set in your ways. It can be hard to adjust your routine and make compromises. If you've been married, or lived with someone, you should be more familiar with the concept. Ergo, second marriages SHOULDN'T have a higher failure rate than first marriages. But they do.

Any non-Team Divorce members care to weigh in?

Hey Pretty said...

31 year old female, never married here. Parents are divorced, currently dating a divorcee. I do admit that my current attitude towards marriage leans towards the "why bother?" The prospect of long-term relationshipness appeals to me very much but I don't know if I'll ever need a legal contract to bind it. But check back with me in 5 years. My attitude may change by then.

Jamie said...

I am afraid to own a video game system, I'd surely lose my job. Though I think I'm about to get a pool table.

The important part of the formula is that a lot of first marriages take place when people are young and still willing to make those changes and compromises.

Just being married (and then divorced) doesn't make one more likely than a younger person to be flexible. But I think it DOES make them more likely than a never-been-married person of the same age. Who by that time may be so used to living on their own (or alternatively, have suffered so many awful breakups that they're more scarred than a typical Gitmo prisoner) that they're not able (or willing) to get into a committed relationship.

Shannon said...

HP, always good to hear from you! I agree that the "piece of paper" aspect can seem very beside the point. Oddly enough, though, I'm pro-marriage. I like the idea of formalizing things - I love structure and organization (HP has seen my meticulously alphabetized CD collection and can vouch for this).

Jamie, I think table hockey is way more fun than pool. I also think one of the reasons young marriages fail is too much flexibility - sometimes people are willing to give up way too much of themselves to keep the marriage going, and they live to regret it. (I know that's true in my case - married at 26, stopped working, left the country, woke up at 29, came back home.)

I suppose the trick is to not get too scarred - personally, I have the view that it isn't a "failed relationship" if you learned something.

Jamie said...

There's a fine line between giving up too much and not enough. That's when mine ended- when I realized I had changed into something that didn't feel like myself anymore. But compromise is essential too. And totally agree with you about learning something from the breakups. That doesn't mean they don't suck at the time though!!

But never mind all that. Table hockey better than pool? You've just lost all credibility.

Shannon said...

Jamie...I am amazed you thought I had any credibility to begin with.

Capitol Hill 20210 said...

This is why I am going to have a harem of men in my house :-)
I ended at 4 year engagement last summer, it would have eventually ended up in divorce.

I'm not too sure about this marriage thing, I would rather live in sin with my harem of men.

Shannon said...

Zipcode, more power to you...I don't think I could manage a harem!