Census Numbers Differ, But Divorce Consequences the Same

Because of the negligence of many states in submitting vital statistics to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), national reports of the number of marriages and divorces since the late 1990s have been based on incomplete state records. In an effort to obtain a more accurate accounting, the Census Bureau recently began including marital history items to its American Community Survey (ACS), which polls about 2 million households annually. The new ACS data, based on monthly surveys conducted throughout 2008 and 2009, suggest a higher number of marriages and divorces relative to NCHS vital-statistics reports, a plausible outcome given the limitations of current NCHS data. At the same time, ACS data claim that a greater number of men marry than do women, while a greater number of women divorce than do men. For example, ACS data collected throughout 2009 found that 2.29 million men married and that 1.10 million men divorced, but that 2.21 million women married and 1.22 million women divorced, in the previous twelve months. For comparison purposes, the NCHS claims that 2.08 million marriages and 1.04 million divorces occurred in 2009. This discrepancy between men and women points to serious problems with the ACS data. How could a large, nationally representative survey find that nearly 78,000 more men marry than women? Or that nearly 121,000 more women divorced than men? The differences were even greater using data collected in 2008, as the data claims that about 100,000 more men than women married, and that 131,000 more women than men divorced, during the previous twelve months. The Census Bureau’s explanation is not at all credible, attributing the discrepancy to “gender differences in marriage.” Women, an August 2011 report claims, tend to live longer and tend to marry older men, while men tend to remarry more. All true, yet each marriage and divorce in America still represents two parties—a man and woman—who would ordinarily report the sa
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