Yesterday I published some Census Bureau statistics on divorce rates in the USA in 2009. In them I pointed out that the highest divorce rates in the nation are found in the South, while the Northeast actually has the lowest divorce rate. I pointed out that these statistics show a contradiction between what is proclaimed and what actually happens and I had commented that I expected to post on some of the reasons why this may be so. I also pointed out that country music has long recognized the reality of the South, with its “sawdust trail,” but also with its divorces, etc.
However, the post yesterday led to some good questions being asked, questions that anyone should ask when a study is published, questions that are meant to try to get to an understanding of what the real picture is. So, I am taking a small detour to answer some of those questions, with a thankful attitude towards those who posted.
One of the questions had to do with the culture of the South. Perhaps the marriage rate in the South was higher than the marriage rate in the Northeast, and that this explained the higher divorce rate. That is actually a good question and a good supposition. The Pew Research Center, which is renowned for its religious research reports that there is little correlation between “religiosity” and marriage patterns. The correlation is between areas of the country and marriage and divorce patterns. Sadly, none of the statistics reflect well for the South.
First, it is true that the South has the highest marriage rate. And, the age of people at first marriage is lowest in the South. That is people get married sooner and more often in the South. The lowest marriage rate, the highest marriage age, and the lowest divorce rate are in the Northeast. Now this might argue in favor of the South, in that the higher divorce rate may be explainable, since the marriage rate is higher. In fact, one poster argues that perhaps this is not all bad since it probably means that people in the South prefer to not live in sin. That is, it is better to marry than to cohabit (live together unmarried). However, there are two problems with this supposition. One of them is a moral failure, the other one is a statistical problem.
The moral failure is that to use the marriage rate to explain the divorce rate is to somehow almost argue that the avoidance of the first sin almost justifies the second sin. That is, the avoidance of cohabitation almost justifies the divorce rate. That is a dangerous argument to make. But, the second problem is statistical. You see, the highest cohabitation rates in the nation are also in the South. And, the highest increase in cohabiting couples between 2009 and 2010 also ocurred in the South. That is, not only are people in the South getting hitched more often, but they are shacking up more often. But there is a final statistic that troubles me and, sadly, tends to put the cap on the argument. The highest percentage of thrice married people are found in some of the Southern states while the lowest percentage of thrice married people are found in some of the Northeastern states. That is, more examples of serial polygamy are found in the Southern states than anywhere else. One report can be found here.
One final note, as with most reportage, there are many ways that one can work with the data. Thus, there will inevitably be a state in the South that may rank better than a state in the North. Nor have we considered a few of the Western states that have data similar to various of the Southern states. Nevertheless, the various ways to split the statistics still show that there is a disconnect in the South between proclamation in this area and practice in this area.
Having said that, let me make it clear that the Northeast has its own sin in one other very key area. According to the Census Bureau, the highest rates of abortion are found in some of the Northeastern states and California, with one glaring exception. Which Southern state has an abortion rate that matches the abortion rates of various of the Northeastern states and California? The abortion rate in the Northeastern states is in the 20 some percent range while the abortion rate in the Southern states is generally in the teens, with the one glaring exception.
Sadly, the worst abortion rate in the country is found in Washington, DC. One out of every two children is aborted. That’s right, the abortion rate in DC is 50%.