HOW THE DEVIL CAN CITE STATISTICS FOR HIS PURPOSE
Apologies Will for misquoting your Merchant of Venice.
Lies, damned lies and statistics.
It is frightening how statistics gain a life of their own, even if incorrect. It is also frightening how the media love statistics but how badly the media interprets them, even if they are correct.
Let me take one example. When I started as a family lawyer it was said that there was a one in three chance of getting divorced. Now the popularly quoted statistic is 40%. What does it mean?
The first fallacy is to say that if 40% of marriages end in divorce then if I get married there is a 40% chance of it breaking down. Not surprisingly, statistically they say that the chances of getting divorced are significantly higher for second, third (or one of my clients, for whom I did his fourth, fifth and sixth!).
So, the chances of a first marriage lasting the course is much higher.
Secondly, just because 40% of marriages end in divorce it does not mean that you have a 40% chance of failure. Not only is there the example above. But also I am sure that the divorce rate among those from an Indian subcontinent background are far lower.
Next, where do they get the figure from? There were around 231.5k marriages in
England and . That is the lowest since the late 19th century. The number of divorces is falling – about 30% down from its maximum in the mid 90’s; and yet it is stated that the chances of your marriage ending in divorce is increasing. Wales
Let us suppose that the rate of marriage is falling faster that the divorce rate. In 2009 there were 231.5k marriages and 114.0k divorces. Does that mean that the divorce rate is 114.0 / 231.5 or 49.244%.
If the rate of marriages is falling faster than the rate of divorces, then it is going to mean that until that position stabilises the divorce rate will be appear to be increasing – while it is doing nothing of the sort.
When I was a divorce lawyer in the late 80’s/early 90’s I was struck by how many clients considered that they would have more than one marriage over a lifetime. There was much less cohabitation then and there were, in my subjective view, more short lived marriages by young couples wanting to escape home.
Then there are the strange blips in the divorce stats as a result of changes in the law. Before the 90’s, amazingly enough, the Courts barely considered the question of pensions. Then a change in the law was announced and we solicitors would have been negligent (and a number were sued) for starting divorce proceedings before this change in the law could take effect. About 70% of divorces are started by women, who were the ones likely to benefit from this change in divorce pension law. So, for months the issuing of divorce petitions dropped until this legal change came into effect.
We are seeing something similar now for divorces involving public sector workers. Members of the Armed Forces, the police, nurses and doctors, schoolteachers etc. Part of the Government’s austerity programme has been the rather underhanded reducing of the value of public sector pensions by first, shifting the inflation pegging mechanism of the pension to a lower inflation index (RPI to CPI). Now, just recently, the Government actuaries are saying that since we are all living longer, a fixed amount of capital will have to go a longer way and therefore the annual pension will reduce.
The gap between the announcement of the change and the publication of regulations relating to the change has meant that division of pensions on divorce has been put on hold. And generally speaking, a divorce is not usually obtained until pension issues have been resolved. So many divorces have been in limbo.
Since it only a few years since one could obtain a divorce in
. It does not mean that the marriages were happier. Thousands left to live in Ireland with their new partners. England
It is probable that divorces increase in good times, and decline in bad times when the couple can not only not afford the legal costs but also the rehousing costs etc. etc.
It used to be the case that a couple could only get a joint mortgage if they were married. There were tax advantages to being married. It was much easier to get a council house if you were married. Many reasons for getting married were therefore less than toally romantic. Often the marriage was placed on an unstable base.
The figures are probably also being skewed by those in their 50’s, 60’s and even 70’s who believe in marriage but who, for whatever reasons, do not have the makeup to create a stable marriage. The triumph of hope over experience. They are serial marriers – and once again they will skew the statistics.
And what about the international element? We lead such cross border lives these days. How do the statistics take these into account.
There is the couple for whom a wedding in the
Similarly, many of Pakistani descent will get married in
and then, either or both being English, return to this country. And then what of the Poles and East Europeans, young people who moved over here, got married but have now returned to their country of birth. Pakistan
All this is to say that so much can be read into statistics.
Certainly we all know that the marriage rate is declining.
But if you married today, with the right motives, is the likelihood of it lasting “till death us depart” declining. Most couples live together before getting married. It is a good filtering process. On the other hand, fewer are prepared, as they were up to the 1960’s and 1970, to be locked into unhappy marriages.
I have no statistical justification for this statement – merely anecdote and gut feeling. But I believe that if you get married today the chances of your having a truly happy marriage is probably better than at any time.
So on that upbeat note – beware the media’s oversimplification and selective (and usually defective) use of statistics to promote their latest paper-selling hobby horse.