Challenging the Divorce Statistics

Published July 23, 1987. It was with some degree of interest I read a UPI report of a recent study on marriage and family. Conducted by Louis Harris and Associates, it challenges the widely held belief that nearly half of all marriages end in divorce.

The survey said most American families are satisfied with their quality of life, and that the American Family is “healthy and thriving.”

According to Harris, the fear that nearly half of all marriages end in divorce is “statistical nonsense.” He claims high divorce rates are often traced by the “Vital Statistics of the United States’ generated by the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics. The Center compares the 2.5 million new marriages each year with the 1.1 million divorces, to conclude that nearly half of all marriages are breaking up. Harris believes the ratio of divorce is closer to one out of every eight marriages rather than 50 percent.

The researchers interviewed a cross-section of 3,000 people by telephone last spring. They interviewed individuals 18 years or older who were living together as a couple or who were related by blood, marriage, or adoption.

The pollster, Harris, claimed that people are tired of hearing and reading all the negative news about family life and wanted to tell it like it “really is.” According to the survey, 94 percent of families are “highly satisfied” with their family relationships; 86 percent are happy at the way family members support each other in a crisis; and 83 percent are satisfied with the amount of time spent with family and friends. Harris claims the statistics are accurate within plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The major dissatisfactions with marriage and family life expressed by those polled were the lack of money and lack of leisure time. Without question, economic pressures greatly affect satisfaction with life. But married women who work were reportedly less satisfied in the marriage than men because of the balance of time they devote to outside jobs, spouses, household responsibilities, and children.

The report observed that even in light of today’s complex society, the American family is coping very well and is clinging together for support. It is not falling apart. The researchers concluded that “People want to be reassured that their good family life experiences are the norm rather than the exception.”

It’s something to think about. Is marriage and family life in the United States really better than we sometimes think? Maybe so. The divorce rate peaked a few years ago and has leveled off since that time. Perhaps people now realize divorce may solve some problems, but it often creates others equally or more difficult.

But I wonder about the results of a telephone survey. How accurate are they? Would the results differ on who answered the phone, the time of day of the phone call, or how recent the monthly bank statement had arrived?

If I received such a phone call, I think I would be suspicious. Who really is calling? Is it an actual survey or the usual pseudo-survey leading up to the pitch to try to sell me something. And maybe, just maybe, it would be my neighbors faking a call to try and find out what is really going on in the Barlow household.

I really hope the recent Louis Harris Survey on contemporary marriage and family life is accurate. But is it? Are there some major problems that need to be identified, confronted, and hopefully corrected?

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