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Stats Can Lie: Don’t Let Divorce Statistics Dictate Your Fate

Stats Can Lie: Don't Let Divorce Statistics Dictate Your FateI’ll bet you’ve heard at least one of these statistics about divorce, such as 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce and that more than 60 percent of second marriages end in divorce.

Every time I read stats like these divorce statistics, I’m reminded of a grad school buddy of mine, Cheng Ling. When I joined the research group, Cheng was one of the senior grad students. He’d been in the group for a couple of years and had a reputation for being a comedian.

One day after I’d been a part of the group for about a year, he walked into my office and asked what I was doing. I told him I was working on my statistics homework. He started laughing and told me that statistics were all lies. I assumed he was joking with me again, but he assured me he wasn’t and kept on laughing.

I was shocked! How could statistics be lies?

Here I was, taking a course on statistics to help me with my dissertation work. I needed to take the class because statistics were how you “proved” your research. I told him I didn’t believe him. He continued to laugh and asked me to come with him to his office across the hall because he had a book he wanted to share with me. Happy for the excuse to stop working on my homework, I followed Cheng across the hall and into his office.

He pulled a book from his shelf, How to Lie with Statistics, and my world was forever changed. That day I learned that statistics rarely tell you what you think they’re telling you.

Statistics are rarely hard and fast numbers. They are usually an estimation of probabilities and inherently have assumptions embedded in them.

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Now here’s why this story is important to you. Divorce statistics are no different! The oft-quoted divorce statistics like the ones above are estimates and are full of assumptions.

Many of the people I work with initially quote the divorce statistic “50 percent of all marriages end in divorce”, rather fatalistically I might add. They just accept that they must have drawn the short straw, and that statistics are the reasons their marriage failed. As kindly and gently as I can, I let them know that the “statistic” is, frankly, bullsh*t.

This particular divorce statistic is based on yearly reports from the CDC, which estimates the divorce rates based on incomplete and estimated data. What the data actually say is that in a particular year there were approximately X number of marriages and approximately Y number of divorces. In general, if you look at the numbers X and Y, Y just happens to be about half of X. That’s all this particular divorce statistic says. It doesn’t predict that 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce. Yet, unfortunately, that’s what the popular belief has erroneously become.

Marriages fail for many different reasons, and relying on this kind of divorce statistic as the reason for a marriage failure is not going to help anyone get over a divorce. In fact, this particular statistic makes it more difficult for someone to really recover from divorce. It is so much easier to just accept that the marriage was doomed to fail because of the divorce statistic instead of digging into the real reasons (yes, there’s usually more than one reason) the marriage failed.

If you’ve been feeling like you just drew the short straw and were destined to have your marriage fail because everyone knows that 50 percent of all marriages fail, I challenge you to rethink your position and allow yourself to do some real divorce recovery, so you can get on to living the best of your life.

At some point while working with my clients, we’ll start talking about dating and remarriage. As you’ve probably already guessed, there are several divorce statistics that clients will bring up that reinforce the pessimism they feel, and the fear of being alone for the rest of their lives. Just a couple of these depressing divorce statistics are: “more than 60 percent of second marriages end in divorce” and “more than 70 percent of third marriages end in divorce”.

In my quest to find the source of these divorce statistics, I discovered that there’s some serious debate about these numbers. For instance, Kalman Heller, Ph.D. states, “While data for second marriages is currently very limited, the early indication is that the frequently stated 60 percent divorce rate is also a gross exaggeration and that divorce rates for second marriages may not be any higher than for first marriages.”

In addition, Alan J. Hawkins, Ph.D. & Tamara A. Fackrell, J.D. in Chapter 3 of their book Should I Keep Trying to Work It Out? state “In the United States, researchers estimate that 40 percent to 50 percent of all first marriages, and 60 percent of second marriages, will end in divorce.” Did you catch the key word in that quote?Estimate.

To my way of thinking, these two quotes make me immediately question the validity of the divorce statistics about second and third marriages.  Whenever there are contradictory statistics about what seems to be a straight-forward situation, then there’s usually some assumption or data discrepancy or data manipulation that makes the statistic invalid. That’s when I choose to throw the statistic out the window, but keep the underlying message.

What’s the underlying message of these divorce statistics about remarriage? Enter into any marriage with your eyes wide open about yourself, your new partner, and both of your expectations about marriage.

How I put this into practice with my clients is to help them complete their divorce recovery work as thoroughly as possible before remarrying because divorce recovery work is all about rediscovering you — the you that got hidden underneath all the muck that congealed during the failure of the marriage. Once that muck is chiseled away, it’s so much easier to know what does and doesn’t work as far as dating and even remarriage.  And what I’ve found is that when two people enter into a marriage knowing themselves and knowing how to truthfully communicate, then it’s much easier to make a marriage work regardless of whether it’s your first or fifth!

I hope you’re now questioning some of the other divorce statistics out there — things like “it takes 1 year to recover from divorce for every 10 years of marriage”, “it takes 1 year to recover for every 4 years you were married”, and “it takes 2 years to recover from divorce”.

Just think of my grad school friend Cheng Ling and laugh the next time someone tells you about some depressing divorce statistics. Then get on with your divorce recovery.


This guest article from YourTango was written by Dr. Karen Finn and appeared as: Don’t Let These Divorce Statistic Dictate Your Fate

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Stats Can Lie: Don’t Let Divorce Statistics Dictate Your Fate

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APA Reference
Experts, Y. (2018). Stats Can Lie: Don’t Let Divorce Statistics Dictate Your Fate. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 4, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 19 Nov 2013)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.