This forum is about wrong numbers in science, politics and the media. It respects good science and good English.
When I hear 50% of marriages end in divorce, I often wonder what it would sound like if they stated the corollary. 50% of marriages end in the death of one partner. Doesn't THAT sound rather more alarming?
I was thinking of writing something like 100% of all marriages end in separation. An absolutely true fact, and, since most people wouldn't immediately identify death as a form of separation, deliciously misleading.
I was hoping that someone in the forum would actually help me with the math and tell me whether 50% or 2% is the right number. My impression is that debunking statistics is what this forum is about.
Either way I think that the media is misleading the public by continually using 50%. It makes it sound like marriage is in trouble.
The truth is that more and more people are marrying each year and that millions are continuing to participoate in the institution of marriage.
I'm not sure of the actual numbers but I remember reading historical percentages for marriage and being surprised that the percent of never married adults has always been significant. I vaguely recall that group making up between a third and a half of the adult population.
So, "never been married" is as normal as married, or been married.
In a way this forum isn't really about debunking statistics. It is about recognizing that statistics are really only useful to those creating them. In the case of media reporting, they are useful for making the reports exciting. We can use statistics to make decisions, but it is important for use to understand the nature of statistics to do it well.
In this case, the answer probably requires clarification of the question.
Someone else can probably set up the problem more clearly, but question is probably not "What is the divorce rate?", but rather "What is the growth rate (positive or negative) of the married population vs the growth rate (+/-) of the population in general?"
As Douglas Adams put it "42 is the answer, but what exactly was the question?"
Marriage may be in trouble but the people involved may not be, if you see what I mean.
The 50 %, as an illustrative figure, seems fair to me.
2 million in, one million out. 50% .
2 million a year and 50 million married means that, assuming the numbers are constant to make thing simple, the total number of existing marriages represents 25 years of marriage activity absent any divorces. Or 50 years approx if 2 million married each year and 1 million divorced and never re-married.
This of course discounts those who marry multiple times and who may also divorce multiple times, not necesssarily within a year of marriage.
So whereas the 50% figure may indeed apply to the marriage action statistics that does not mean that is applies to the people in the marriages. Many will have a 0% divorce, others may have, for example, 4 marriages of which 3 end in divorce. So they have either a 300% or a 75% divorce rate depending on you Point of View.
Or maybe some other number if you are reporting as an epidemiologist.
What it actually tells us is anybody's guess.