PolySciFi Blog

Wednesday, November 10, 2004


Fallacious Meme 1: Family Values and the South

In this post, Kos references this Boston Globe article written by William V. D'Antonio which states:
The state with the lowest divorce rate in the nation is Massachusetts. At latest count it had a divorce rate of 2.4 per 1,000 population, while the rate for Texas was 4.1.
Statistics which are correct. The Globe (and Kos) use these statistics to bludgeon Bush and red-staters (who are near and dear to my heart):
For all the Bible Belt talk about family values, it is the people from Kerry's home state, along with their neighbors in the Northeast corridor, who live these values.
Kos trumpets something quite similar:
All that talk about "family values" is just that -- talk. It is states like the oft demonized Massachusetts that lead the way in true family values.
D'Antonio offers the following rationales for how this could be so.
All interesting theories. However, these theories miss the rather obvious explanation: more people in the South get married.

If you ain't hitched, you can't get unhitched.

The following makes use of statistics presented in the Colorado Health Department 2001 Vital Statistics report (link).

The marriage rate in Massachussets is 6.2 per 1,000 and the marriage rate for Texas is 9.1. So significantly more people get married in Texas than in Massachussetts. Indeed here's a listing for the top 15 states by rate of marriage:
Nevada 69.7
Hawaii 19.6
Arkansas 14.3
Tennessee 13.5
Idaho 11.2
Utah 10.2
Wyoming 10.1
South Carolina 9.9
Vermont 9.8
Alabama 9.4
Florida 9.2
Texas 9.1
Kentucky 9
South Dakota 8.9
Virginia 8.8

Virtually all red and "family values" states, the exceptions being Hawaii (blue, though a family values state), Vermont(I have no explanation why Vermont is different), and Nevada (the Vegas wedding factor).

Similarly, the US has the world's worst divorce rate! The horrors! But it also has the world's highest marriage rate.

A fairer measure would be the incidence of divorce per marriage, i.e., what's the probability of a marriage will end in a divorce. Without access to direct numbers, we can approximate this value by the ratio of divorces to marriages.1

Mississippi 0.82 New Hampshire 0.58 Connecticut 0.52 Arkansas 0.45 South Dakota 0.37
West Virginia 0.66 North Carolina 0.57 New Jersey 0.52 Illinois 0.44 Tennessee 0.37
New Mexico 0.64 Colorado 0.57 Alaska 0.51 Kansas 0.43 New York 0.37
Washington 0.63 Florida 0.57 Wisconsin 0.49 Utah 0.42 Montana 0.35
Oregon 0.63 Missouri 0.56 Idaho 0.49 North Dakota 0.42 South Carolina 0.34
DC 0.60 Ohio 0.56 Minnesota 0.48 Maryland 0.41 Delaware 0.34
Kentucky 0.60 Alabama 0.55 Virginia 0.48 Vermont 0.41 Hawaii 0.19
Michigan 0.59 Maine 0.55 United States 0.48 Texas 0.41 Nevada 0.09
Georgia 0.59 Pennsylvania 0.53 Nebraska 0.46 Rhode Island 0.38

Wyoming 0.58 Arizona 0.53 Iowa 0.45 Massachusetts 0.37

Texas and Massachussetts are VERY close in their rates of divorces per marriage (separated by two spots) and the distribution of blue and red states is all over the place.2,3,4,5

Bottom Line: Massachussetts is doing pretty well with respect to divorces, but not significantly better than Texas (or a number of other red states). D'Antonio's factors may play a bigger role in my numbers where the two states (Mississippi and West Virginia) with the lowest incomes and the lowest rates of high school graduation. Further, the red/blue divide is not particularly good for predicting divorce ratios, though it is pretty good at predicting marriage rates.

In the comments wonders if the the marriage rates of West Coast states, particularly California, Washington, and Oregon, are being depressed by their proximity to Nevada. So I looked up some detailed Nevada statistics. It's off by two years (1999 instead of 2001), but there's not a lot of variation from year to year other than a general trend downwards.

Using this report we have the following numbers:

State Grooms married in NV State Population (1,000's) Groom Rate Additional Marriage Rate
CA 45549 34,600 1.32 2.63
WA 807 5,993 0.13 0.27
OR 1010 3,473 0.29 0.58
NV 17,486 2,098 8.33 16.67

If we adjust these states' marriage rates, then we get these numbers:
CA 9.1
WA 7.3
OR 8.1
NV 16.7

So CA enters into the top 15 (Virginia drops out), NV drops down to 2 and OR and WA remain outside of the top 15.

1. What we're missing out on by not having access to better numbers is the fact that some people marry in one state and then divorce in another, like Nevada.
2. Note that Nevada's stats are skewed by people entering the state, marrying, and then getting divorced elsewhere.
3. Mississippi at 0.82 is particularly disappointing and is probably a function of income and some other factors that I can't be certain of without doing real sociological research.
4, The US (and Virginia) has approximately 0.48 divorces per marriage - a stat that is pretty disappointing to me.
5. CA, IN, OK, and LA have unreported stats and are thus not included.


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?