Please make it stop: Wilcox marriage baloney edition

How many marriages do we need to conclude that “marriage is not dead yet”?

I am not kidding about this: I really don’t have half an hour every few days just to debunk whatever Brad Wilcox and his cocktail party blog about. We need more people, and more money, to resist the tide of baloney that the Family Right puts out. To students: I hope some of you will consider a career in family demography and devote some of your time to public work. To those hard-working journalists who are trying to do good reporting among all this noise: I hope you will have the opportunity to develop the skills and sources you need to avoid being misled (and thanks for trying).

Today’s example: one paragraph from Wilcox’s blog yesterday:

But outside of the media glare, there are a number of signs—demographic and cultural—that marriage is not dead yet, and that the nation’s retreat from marriage may have bottomed out. Take the marriage rate, which has fallen more than 50 percent since the 1970s. Since 2009, the marriage rate looks to have stabilized at about 6.8 marriages per 1,000 Americans. And, because the population is growing, the number of Americans actually tying the knot has been rising since 2009, from 2.08 million marriages that year to 2.12 million marriages in 2011, with more marriages forecast for this year.

You have to pay attention to the details to smell the baloney. He is talking about two data points (2010 and 2011) and comparing them with one year that had a big decline in marriage (2009).

The figure Wilcox produces only goes back to 1990. As I showed recently, the decline in marriage accelerated in the 1990s and 2000s — even with the post-recession increase that warms Wilcox’s heart:

This just shows the decade end points. Here are the trends within the 2000s:

marriage trend 2000-2011

Source: National Center for Health Statistics.

Both the number of marriages and the marriage rate dropped precipitously in the worst recession year of 2009 before rebounding. The trendlines from 2000 to 2011 show that we have had one year above the expected level for the decade. Until this rebound creates more marriages than were lost in 2009 — which has not yet happened — we should probably just chalk it up to marriages that were delayed by the recession.

For more on Wilcox’s corruption and distortions, follow the National Marriage Project tag. For a more substantial treatment of marriage trends, please see:

9 thoughts on “Please make it stop: Wilcox marriage baloney edition

  1. Just curious: was there a decline in marriages after the dot-com bubble burst in 2000 (it doesn’t look like it from these graphs, but arguably you’d want to know what was going on in the 1990s, too)? Was the decline more pronounced in CA and other more tech-dependent states? Or is delaying marriage in a recession more about the length and breadth of the recession?

    (No, I don’t expect you to do my homework for me. If you don’t know off the top of your head, don’t bother…)


  2. Are the correct numbers being plotted? Should the number of marriages be normalized by a marriage-age population to show marriages have reduced?

    The recession and dotcom bubble has nothing to do with the reduction. Let me conjecture here.

    We know the white population has aged (median age is 42.3). Hispanics have the youngest, 27.6. Non-Hispanic blacks (32.9) and non-Hispanic Asians (35.9) also are younger than whites [1].

    The marriage percentages in minorities, and in particular, non-hispanic blacks has been historically small(er) than white.

    The percentage contribution to the population by race has also shifted. White percentage has reduced form (>) 69 to 65 in the last ten years, possibly owing to immigration.

    Marriage percentage is weighted by percentage by race in population X people of marriageable age X people who get married as a percentage of total group population. We are also aware that people of high school or lesser education have been less prone to get married recently.

    The reduction in marriage is an outcome of these factors. I was hoping that you would have explained it, rather than an attack on the big bad conservatives. University faculty have a higher requirements on academic rigor, whereas it is quite OK for Kate Hymovitz and Brad Wilcox.


  3. The 2012 PUMS has not been released yet (regardless of the shutdown). We were hearing December before the shutdown, and IPUMS should have it online with in 1-2 weeks of the release date. And even with factfinder down, you can find the published 2012 ACS tables at


  4. We should be looking at the larger picture, as far as what the 2008 situation, in reality a worldwide depression, not a recession, has provoked. The “sequester” cut US science research funding off at its knees, and few if any congressional Republicans appear to be concerned about that. The obsession with marriage as predictive of prosperity is a distraction from the ways ignorance is making the U.S. steadily less competitive in almost all areas. Social policy in any event should be as supportive of single as of married people, whether they have children or not.


  5. Um, I don’t doubt that the point of this post is clear to you, but I totally don’t get it, and I have a Ph.D. in US history. Granted, I do zero statistical analysis in my research, but I do follow your blog because I support and appreciate what you do here. I just think you whiffed it with this entry.


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