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January 16, 2007

Fooling with statistics

You might remember a New York Times article last spring that quoted "experts" who argued that women are better off without their husbands? If not, here's a refresher.

Part 2 of this theme is an article on the front page of today's New York Times pointing out that "51% of Women Are Now Living Without Spouse," to quote the headline. Or the lead: "For what experts say is probably the first time, more American women are living without a husband than with one, according to a New York Times analysis of census results." I mean, we all surmised that marriage was in decline, but could it have gone this far down already?

Well, that depends on the meaning of the word "far." Here are two short observations about the underlying statistics, gleaned entirely from the Times article:

1. The figures include "women" as young as 15. I'm totally serious: "Among the more than 117 million women over the age of 15, according to the marital status category in the Census Bureau’s latest American Community Survey, 63 million are married. Of those, 3.1 million are legally separated and 2.4 million said their husbands were not living at home for one reason or another." Fifteen-year-old "women" aren't even allowed to marry in most states. The only time they're considered "women" is when we're talking about their right to have abortions without parental consent or notification.

2. The statistics combine women who have never been married with those who are divorced or widowed. These situations are completely different. All of these women are unmarried, but a decision not to remarry can't be analyzed the same way as a decision not to get married in the first place. What's the point of combining these statistics? (Except to show that marriage is on the decline, with the possible bonus point that gay marriage can't possibly be a cause of problems for the institution if it's so far in decline already.)