*Posted by Kirk Spencer
A “knumber” (to me at least) is a number we think we know but really don’t. The Unemployment Rate Knumber is not a measure of the percentage of unemployed Americans. If that were so, the Unemployment Rate would be about 50% (150 million Americans in the workforce out of 300 million Americans total). The Unemployment Knumber only measures those who are actively looking for employment. It does not include the retired, or the disabled, or stay-at-home parents, or children or even those who have just given up and stopped looking for a job—none of these groups are technically “unemployed.” Only those who are actively looking for work are unemployed in the Unemployment Rate Knumber. The Oil Reserve Knumber does not measure how much oil we have. Oil Reserves only includes the oil we can currently produce profitably of the fraction of our oil we have discovered so far. So someone (such as a president) who is restricting exploration, production and research in petroleum based energy sources should not complain about how low the Oil Reserve Knumber is because they are a major part of why it is low. If our country’s leaders would just open up off-shore and public land to exploration, and if they would stop restricting drilling permits and if they encouraged (rather than discouraged) research and development in production techniques the low Oil Reserve Knumber would rise dramatically.
In this last part, Part Three, I would like to consider the Divorce Rate Knumber.
The Divorce Rate Knumber
The Divorce Rate is believed to be a measure of the number of marriages that end in divorce. While this is true, in a sense, you will notice that it is not just a raw number of divorces but rather a rate. So instead of just saying “there were 1.1 million divorces this year” it is said, “the Divorce Rate is 50% this year.” So the number of divorces is being compared to something else. What is that “something else?” The number of divorces each year is compared to the number of marriages in that same year. So when the Divorce Rate Knumber is reported as 50%, it suggests that there is one divorce for every two marriages. So because the number of divorces is compared to the number of marriages for any given period of time, this Divorce Rate Knumber is often seen (and stated) as the “chances” that marriages will fail. This knumber (50%) has been universally quoted, and accepted, for so long, by so many people, in so many contexts that it has now come to mean that “one out of every two marriages will end in divorce.” This statement has become an indelible part of our collective consciousness. However it is untrue.
There is a world of difference between “There is one divorce for every two marriages this year” (which is the case) and “One out of every two marriages ended in divorce this year” (which is not the case). Here is the difference: Divorces occurred from among all the marriages in the year in question and all the years before that year. However, the 50% number is calculated using only marriages recorded in the year in question. Let me illustrate the absurdity: Let’s say we had a really bad year and there were 2 million divorces yet only 1 million marriages. What would the Divorce Rate be? 200%! Do you think this number would be reported as “chances” of divorce? Or that “200% of marriages will end in divorce?” Or “Four out of every two marriages ends in divorce?” The rate of marriages to divorces in a particular year has nothing to do with chances.
The Divorce Rate is simply the number of divorces (from all marriages) filed each year against the number of marriages recorded in just that year. To assume that the number of divorces in a particular year are somehow organically related to the marriages that year in a one-to-one, apples to apples, correspondence is almost as odd as supposing that either of these numbers has anything to do with how many marriages will survive or fail in the future. From year to year, and decade to decade, there are many things which change the raw numbers of marriages and divorces. For instance, after World War II marriage rates were at an all-time high as our soldiers came home from war. And during the radical social liberations of the 60s and 70s, the occurrence of divorce increased dramatically, reaching its maximum in the 80s. More recently couples simply do not get married in the first place. They just live together. The immediate effect of such “common-law living” is a reduction in the number of marriages, while the divorces, which occur in the large population of past marriages, keep on occurring at similar rates. Thus a decline in marriages, coupled with stability in the number of divorces, will make the Divorce Rate Knumber look worse, even when there has been no increase in the number of divorces. However, the popularity of common-law living will inevitably reduce the number of divorces (because you can’t get divorced if you never marry) and a new equilibrium will eventually emerge.
Beyond these demographic variables, there is an even more insidious aspect. It is believed that the continual reporting of the misleading 50% Divorce Rate Knumber as the chances for failure has actually fed upon itself. The continuing belief that marriage is a “coin-toss” has produced a climate of doubt and low expectation. This in turn elevates levels of anxiety and suppresses levels of commitment. In this sense, the Divorce Rate Knumber becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy when husband and wife consider divorce as almost inevitable. This false perception of “coin-toss matrimony” makes it easier to give up and “just go” when the going gets tough. It makes it easier to blame it on chance and just get a divorce… “like the other half.”
And all of this complexity is not even considering that a person who marries and divorces, often does it again—sometimes several times. Because of this, considering that the Divorce Rate is simply the ratio of divorces to marriages, the results are skewed if someone were to think that the Divorce Rate Knumber applies to individuals. In other words, if we are determined to consider it all as a sort of “marriage lottery,” when someone puts their name “in the hat” several times, we would not consider their chances the same as those whose name was only put in once. We would think that if their name was put in several times (several divorces) they would have a better chance of “winning” (or losing in this case)… and such is the case. The Divorce Rate is much higher for those who have been divorced previously (90% for the fourth marriage).
To get beyond the blurring effect of demographic changes, it helps to just take raw census results and focus on the number of people that have ever married against the number of people that have ever divorced. This at least anchors the statistic in individual experiences rather than social and demographic trends. When this is done, the “divorce rate” goes from 50% to 30%. Thirty percent of people who say they have ever married say they have ever divorced. Also it is important to consider that this significantly lower rate is spread out over a lifetime. Even considering this 30% “ever divorced” number as some indication of “chances” of survival (which is not warranted), even doing this, the percentage does not apply to every stage of life equally; nor to all varieties of marriages. For instance, higher rates of divorce occur when couples marry at younger ages:
18 to 24 years of age (35% divorce rate)
25 to 30 years of age (20% divorce rate)
30 to 34 years of age (10% divorce rate)
35 to 40 years of age (6% divorce rate)
The significantly higher rates of divorce among those who marry young indicate, in human terms, longevity is about something learned over time, such as commitment to a task. It is learned as we live. For instance, one of the features of life most clearly related to Divorce Rate is college education. The divorce rate among people with a college degree is significantly lower. Is that because they are more educated? I doubt it. Is it because they are people who don’t give up (important in finishing college)? Probably so… If you have the commitment to stay in school to the end, you probably have the commitment to stay married to the end. Of course this is all in human terms. Ultimately the divorce rate is not about numbers. It is not quantitative. It is qualitative—the quality of a heart of true commitment. Or even more simply, it is not a chance of heads-or-tails, but a choice to have a hard head to the very end.
 Data from Digital Citizen found at:
 Data collected by divorcepeers.com and found at: