Tag Archives: demography

Family Demography seminar syllabus

Sabbatical over

Syllabuses done

Welcome all students

Come many come one


Shanghai Museum, Summer 2017 (photo PNC, Flickr CC)

Here is my revised syllabus for a graduate seminar in family demography. Comments and suggestions always welcome. This is just the reading list, but the bureaucratic parts are available in the PDF version. A lot of the papers are paywalled, but you can get most by pasting the DOIs into the sci-hub pirate site search box (if it’s not blocked where you are.)

Week 1

Theoretical perspectives in demography

Week 2

Demographic transition

Week 3

Fertility in poor countries

Week 4

Second demographic transition

Week 5

U.S. History

Week 6

Marriage and social class

  • Cherlin, Andrew J. 2014. Labor’s Love Lost: The Rise and Fall of the Working-Class Family in America. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
  • Cohen, Philip N. 2014. The Family: Diversity, Inequality, and Social Change. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. Chapter 8, “Marriage and cohabitation.”

Week 7


Week 8

Transition to adulthood

Week 9

Women and families in Asia and Africa

  • Yeung, Wei-Jun Jean, Sonalde Desai, and Gavin W. Jones. 2018. “Families in Southeast and South Asia.” Annual Review of Sociology 44 (1): 469–95. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-soc-073117-041124.
  • Desai, Sonalde, and Lester Andrist. 2010. “Gender Scripts and Age at Marriage in India.” Demography 47 (3): 667–87.
  • Clark, Shelley, Sangeetha Madhavan, Cassandra Cotton, Donatien Beguy, and Caroline Kabiru. 2017. “Who Helps Single Mothers in Nairobi? The Role of Kin Support.” Journal of Marriage and Family 79 (4): 1186–1204. https://doi.org/10.1111/jomf.12404.

Week 10

U.S. economic conditions and family outcomes

Week 11

Policy, race, and nonmarital births

Week 12

More U.S. inequality issues

  • Brady, David, Ryan M. Finnigan, and Sabine Hübgen. 2017. “Rethinking the Risks of Poverty: A Framework for Analyzing Prevalences and Penalties.” American Journal of Sociology 123 (3): 740–86. https://doi.org/10.1086/693678.
  • Western, Bruce, and Christopher Wildeman. 2009. “The Black Family and Mass Incarceration.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 621 (1): 221–242.
  • Two selections from Families in an Era of Increasing Inequality (2015) edited by Paul R. Amato, Alan Booth, Susan M. McHale, and Jennifer Van Hook, 3–23. National Symposium on Family Issues 5. Springer International Publishing.
    • McLanahan, Sara, and Wade Jacobsen. “Diverging Destinies Revisited.”
    • Cohen, Philip N. 2015. “Divergent Responses to Family Inequality.”

Week 13

Family structure and child wellbeing

Week 14

Maternal mortality

 Week 15

Immigrant families

  • Menjívar, Cecilia, Leisy J. Abrego, and Leah C. Schmalzbauer. 2016. Immigrant Families. John Wiley & Sons.


Filed under Me @ work

The rise of Jewish boys’ names in the US

Names are cultural as the personal is political for marginalized groups.

I’ve had these numbers sitting around for a while, since I noticed Nazis on Twitter calling me “Shlomo” as an insult, and was just spurred to write them up by a fascinating Twitter thread from someone who goes by Benjamin (בנימן טבלוב). He writes in response to criticism of Jews who change their names from their “real” European names to Hebrew names, specifically Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose father changed the family name from Mileikowsky after they moved from Europe to Palestine in 1920. (Netanyahu is terrible in every way, that’s not the point.)

Benjamin explained that the Jews of northern and eastern Europe historically practiced patronymic naming exclusively, naming children after their fathers, as in: Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham. (The most famous contemporary patronymic society is Iceland, although they sometimes use matronyms now, too.) It was only with the bureaucratization of modern citizenship in eighteenth and nineteenth century Austria, Prussia, Russia, France, and Bavaria, that Jews were forced to take permanent surnames, and these were often not of their choosing, based things like on places, occupations, or even insults. Besides being generally dehumanizing, this system of Jewish surnames also eventually made it easy to round Jews up for the Holocaust (see the Kaplan and Bernays’ The Language of Names, and this paper, for some history). An exception, incidentally, is the use of the priestly honorific terms Cohen and Levy, which were already in place (e.g., Philip, son of Marshall the Cohen) and then became permanent surnames. I assume Israeli politicians aren’t ditching the name Cohen for something more Hebrew sounding.

So when Jews went to Palestine, they often took new Hebrew names; but when they came to America they took more English names, and then gave their kids mainstream American names. The history of coercive naming in Europe makes it easier to see why this might not have been so objectionable to the Jewish immigrants in the early twentieth century. Kaplan and Bernays quote an immigrant to New York who said, “Nothing good ever came to us while we bore them [old names]; possibly we’ll have more luck with the new names.” (My grandmother was born Tzivya (צִבְיָה), which became Cywja when she boarded a ship from Poland in 1921, and then eventually Sylvia.)

Jewish names today

Today it’s probably safe to say most Jewish children in the U.S. don’t have Jewish first names per se (although they sometimes have a Hebrew name they use just for religious occasions). Here I look at the trends for seven Jewish boys’ names I found on various naming websites: Shlomo, Chaim, Eliezer, Mordechai, Moshe, Yosef, and Zev. These were the most popular ones I could think of (feel free to suggest others).

First a little data on Yiddish and Hebrew in America. This is all from the Decennial Census and then, after 2000, the American Community Survey, which asked about “mother tongue” (language spoken at home as a child) from 1910 to 1970 (except 1950), and language spoken at home after that. The Census doesn’t ask about religion.

Yiddish was the language spoken by the big wave of Jewish immigrants in the early twentieth century. Hebrew is the primary official language of Israel, and the religious language of Judaism. This shows the percentage of people in the U.S. who spoke Yiddish or Hebrew from 1910 to 2017.* The peak in 1930 is 1.1 percent, during the immigration boom. The 1970 peak reflects the only year “mother tongue” was asked of non-immigrants as well as immigrants. By 1980 only one-in-500 Americans spoke Yiddish or Hebrew at home.


The second thing about Yiddish and Hebrew is children. There are a declining number of old immigrants speaking Yiddish, and no new immigrants speaking Yiddish. So most people speaking Yiddish as their language today are probably the descendants of those immigrants, orthodox Jews participating in ethnic revival or preservation. The same goes for people speaking Hebrew at home, except by now some of these could be immigrants from Israel and their children. (By 2000 Hebrew speakers outnumbered those speaking Yiddish.) Here’s the percentage of Yiddish and Hebrew speakers that were under 18 for the same years.


It was low in 1930, when they were mostly working-age immigrants, and then in 1960 when their kids were grown. The percentage under age 18 increased after 1960, and now 40 percent of Yiddish speakers are children (which is not the case for Hebrew). And, this is key: the proportion of all U.S. children speaking Yiddish at home has more than doubled since 1980, from 5 to 11 per 10,000. If these numbers are to be believed.



The sample numbers here are small, but the ACS sample is also picking up about 150 Yiddish or Hebrew speaking women per year having babies, which implies that population is having about 10,000 babies per year, or about 26 out of every 10,000 babies born in the country.

So, who’s naming their sons Shlomo, Chaim, Eliezer, Mordechai, Moshe, Yosef, and Zev? Now switching to the Social Security names database, I find that these names together accounted for 1,943 boys born in 2017 (that’s 9.9 out of every 10,000 US boys born). What’s interesting is that none of these boys’ names reached the threshold for reporting in the database — five children — until 1942. This is remarkable given that Yiddish was in decline by then. And they’ve all been growing more common since that time. So all those Yiddish immigrants in 1920 weren’t naming their sons Moshe, or at least not legally, but now a growing (though small) proportion of their descendants are.


I can’t tell if Yiddish or Hebrew speakers are giving their sons these names. But there must be some connection between the rise of these names and the increase in the proportion of children speaking Yiddish at home. It might not be same people teaching their kids Yiddish, but they may be part of the same (highly localized) revival.

I’ve put the Social Security names data, and my SAS code for extracting name trends, on the Open Science Framework here.

* An earlier version had much higher prevalence of Yiddish and Hebrew before 1980 because I was accidentally just showing the percentages among immigrants.


Filed under In the news

Fox News took my quotes out of context and added wrong information

Following up on Part 1, discussed here, Parts 2 and 3 of the Fox News series on demography and social change also featured quotes from me. Part 2 used a reasonable quote in a reasonable way, but Part 3 did not.

Part 2 is a good teaching lesson in sky-is-fallingism, a Fox News signature. As they’ve done before, they literally start with a 1950s TV show as if it were historical footage, and then proceed to the chaotic now.

“If Tommy suddenly woke up today, he’d be an aging Baby Boomer, receiving benefits from a Social Security trust fund that is more than 2 trillion dollars in debt. He might be tending to his aches and pains with medical marijuana, now legal in 33 states. He might see his childhood friends are legally married [showing gay male weddings] while almost half the mommies in the U.S. are not.”

Cut to racial minority students in UCLA gear. Etc. The most extreme cut is between the Heritage Foundation person saying, of Democrats, “We’re the party of government, and that way if we have voters attached to government programs they’re going to stick with us,” before, literally, cutting to archival Mao and Stalin footage, with the voice-over:

“That, while the hard lessons of socialism — 70 million dead in China, 20 million dead in the Soviet Union — that happened during Communism, are often neglected in colleges, now focused on social justice curricula.”

Great stuff, good for teaching. Anyway, my quote in the piece is just saying young people nowadays don’t like to be lectured about traditional values. They just frame it like that’s a bad thing. Here it is:

Part 3 is where they misused my quotes, in two places. The episode is about how low fertility leads to immigration, which creates chaos and causes populism. Plenty wrong in here, but I’m just focusing on my beefs. First, on immigration, they say:

“Europe’s accommodation of refugees fleeing ISIS and the civil war in Syria, has proved a bridge too far.”

Philip Cohen: “Immigration poses challenges to the dominant culture. It’s obviously politically fraught.”

Cut to rioting footage. Narrator: “From Greece to Italy, Germany, France, and the Nordic countries, clashes have erupted. Nationalist politicians are forcing a reckoning with multiculturalism.”

According to my own recording of the interview, however, what I said immediate after, “It’s obviously politically fraught,” was this:

“On the other hand, there’s a great pent-up demand for immigration. There are plenty of people who want to come here. The immigrants who come here tend to be the better off, more highly skilled and educated people from the countries that they’re coming from, contrary to some stereotypes, so they end up strengthening the U.S. economy even as they improve their own wellbeing. So if you can get over all the challenges and conflict that sometimes comes along with rapid immigration, what you end up with is an answer to the population [problem].”

Lesson learned. Not surprising they didn’t use my pro-immigration other hand. I should have anticipated that better and made the other hand the only hand in my comment. However, they had invited me to discuss Millennials and marriage, so I wasn’t prepared for immigration.

The piece has distracted tangents into robots in Japan and the one-child policy in China. I also wasn’t prepared for the one-child policy on that day, but I always have a take ready on that. Here’s what I said, according to my recording:

“One thing to know about China is the birthrate had fallen a lot before the one-child policy. So even if you like the idea … [they interrupted to say they had bumped the focus, so I should start my answer again] …One thing that’s important to realize about China is that population growth had already slowed a lot before the one-child policy started, so they really didn’t need the one-child policy to slow down population growth. And it was quite draconian. It went against what most people wanted for their families. The implementation of it was very repressive. It included forced sterilization, and abortion, and very harsh penalties for people who had extra children. So it was really a human rights disaster.”

In the piece, however, they used the part about forced sterilization and the human rights disaster, but didn’t use where I said, “they really didn’t need the one-child policy to slow down population growth” — and replaced it with voice-over that said, “overpopulation compelled the Communist government to force a one-child policy on the populous.” So they took out something true and added something false.

To see how wrong that it, here is the trend in total fertility rate (births per woman) from 1960 to 2016. This shows how much birth rates had come down in China under policies that promoted smaller families along with women’s healthcare, education, and employment, by the time China implemented the one-child policy in 1980:


I put India and Nigeria on the chart to show how successful China already was relative to other large, poor countries with high fertility in the 1960s. There was no demographic justification for the one-child policy, and the fact that it became draconian and repressive is a clue to how out of step it was with the family lives of the Chinese people.

The reason this matters is not particularly important for the Fox News piece, but it’s very important to understand that progress on reducing fertility is better achieved through empowerment and development than through command and repression. Now that we’re seeing countries interested in increasing fertility, this is important historical context. (Here’s a good review article by Wang Feng, Baochang Gu, and Yong Cai [paywalled | bootlegged])

Anyway, regardless of the implications, it just goes against accuracy and honesty to remove true information for false information.

Anyway anyway, here’s Part 3:



Filed under In the news, Me @ work

Decadally-biased marriage recall in the American Community Survey

Do people forget when they got married?

In demography, there is a well-known phenomenon known as age-heaping, in which people round off their ages, or misremember them, and report them as numbers ending in 0 or 5. We have a measure, known as Whipple’s index, that estimates the extent to which this is occurring in a given dataset. To calculate this you take the number of people between ages 23 and 62 (inclusive), and compare it to five-times the number of those whose ages end in 0 or 5 (25, 30 … 60), so there are five-times as many total years as 0 and 5 years.

If the ratio of 0/5s to the total is less than 105, that’s “highly accurate” by the United Nations standard, a ratio 105 to 110 is “fairly accurate,” and in the range 110 to 125 age data should be considered “approximate.”

I previously showed that the American Community Survey’s (ACS) public use file has a Whipple index of 104, which is not so good for a major government survey in a rich country. The heaping in ACS apparently came from people who didn’t respond to email or mail questionnaires and had to be interviewed by Census Bureau staff by phone or in person. I’m not sure what you can do about that.

What about marriage?

The ACS has a great data on marriage and marital events, which I have used to analyze divorce trends, among other things. Key to the analysis of divorce patterns is the question, “When was this person last married?” (YRMARR) Recorded as a year date, this allows the analyst to take into account the duration of marriage preceding divorce or widowhood, the birth of children, and so on. It’s very important and useful information.

Unfortunately, it may also have an accuracy problem.

I used the ACS public use files made available by IPUMS.org, combining all years 2008-2017, the years they have included the variable YRMARR. The figure shows the number of people reported to have last married in each year from 1936 to 2015. The decadal years are highlighted in black. (The dropoff at the end is because I included surveys earlier than those years.)

year married in 2016.xlsx

Yikes! That looks like some decadal marriage year heaping. Note I didn’t highlight the years ending in 5, because those didn’t seem to be heaped upon.

To describe this phenomenon, I hereby invent the Decadally-Biased Marriage Recall index, or DBMR. This is 10-times the number of people married in years ending in 0, divided by the number of people married in all years (starting with a 6-year and ending with a 5-year). The ratio is multiplied by 100 to make it comparable to the Whipple index.

The DBMR for this figure (years 1936-2015) is 110.8. So there are 1.108-times as many people in those decadal years as you would expect from a continuous year function.

Maybe people really do get married more in decadal years. I was surprised to see a large heap at 2000, which is very recent so you might think there was good recall for those weddings. Maybe people got married that year because of the millennium hoopla. When you end the series at 1995, however, the DBMR is still 110.6. So maybe some people who would have gotten married at the end of 1999 waited till New Years day or something, or rushed to marry on New Year’s Eve 2000, but that’s not the issue.

Maybe this has to do with who is answering the survey. Do you know what year your parents got married? If you answered the survey for your household, and someone else lives with you, you might round off. This is worth pursuing. I restricted the sample to just those who were householders (the person in whose name the home is owned or rented), and still got a DBMR of 110.7. But that might not be the best test.

Another possibility is that people who started living together before they were married — which is most Americans these days — don’t answer YRMARR with their legal marriage date, but some rounded-off cohabitation date. I don’t know how to test that.

Anyway, something to think about.

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Predicted divorce decline rolls on

With the arrival of the 2017 American Community Survey data on IPUMS.org, I have updated my analysis of divorce trends (paper | media reports | data and code).

In the first version of the paper, based on data from 2008 to 2016, I wrote:

Because divorce rates have continued to fall for younger women, and because the risk profile for newly married couples has shifted toward more protective characteristics (such as higher education, older ages, and lower rates of higher-order marriages), it appears certain that – barring unforeseen changes – divorce rates will further decline in the coming years.

I don’t usually make predictions, but this one seemed safe. And now the 2017 data are consistent with what I anticipated: a sharp decline in divorce rates among those under age 45, and continued movement toward a more selective pattern in new marriages.

Here is the overall trend in divorces per 100 married women, 2008-2017, with and without the other variables in my model:


With the 2017 data, the divorce rate has now fallen 21% since 2008. To show the annual changes by age, I made this heatmap style table, with shading for divorce rates, rows for years, columns for age, and the column widths proportional to the age distribution (so 15-19 is a sliver, and 50-54 is the widest). The last row shows the sharp drop in divorce rates for women under age 45 in 2017:

2008-2017 divorce marriage.xlsx

To peek into the future a little more, I also made a divorce protective-factor scale, which looks just at newlywed couples in each year, and gives them one point for each spouse that is age 30 or more, White or Hispanic, has BA or higher education, is in a first marriage, and a point if the woman has no own children in the home at the time of the survey. So it ranges from 0 to 9. (I’m not saying these factors have equal importance, but they are all associated with lower odds of divorce.) The gist of it is new marriages increasingly have characteristics conducive to low divorce rates. In 2008 41% of couples had a score of 5 or more, and in 2017 it’s 50%.


So divorce rates will probably continue to fall for a while.


Filed under Research reports

Breaking Millennial divorce drop news explained

[With updates as new stories come in.]

Millennials are fun to disparage.

Phones and selfies are all that they cherish.

And what’s par for the course, they have ruined divorce.

‘Cuz Millennials hang on to their ______.

Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, 9/29/18

The divorce paper I posted two weeks ago, “The Coming Divorce Decline,” suddenly took off in the media the other day (blog post | paper | data and code). I’ve now written an op-ed about the findings for The Hill, including this:

I am ambivalent about these trends. Divorce is often painful and difficult, and most people want to avoid it. The vast majority of Americans aspire to a lifelong marriage (or equivalent relationship). So even if it’s a falling slice of the population, I’m not complaining that they’re happy. Still, in an increasingly unequal society and a winner-take-all economy, two-degree couples with lasting marriages may be a buffer for the select few, but they aren’t a solution to our wider problems.

Here’s my media scrapbook, with some comment about open science process at the end.

The story was first reported by Ben Steverman at Bloomberg, who took the time to read the paper, interview me at some length, send the paper to Susan Brown (a key expert on divorce trends) for comment, and produce figures from the data I provided. I was glad that his conclusion focused on the inequality angle from my interpretation:

“One of the reasons for the decline is that the married population is getting older and more highly educated,” Cohen said. Fewer people are getting married, and those who do are the sort of people who are least likely to get divorced, he said. “Marriage is more and more an achievement of status, rather than something that people do regardless of how they’re doing.”

Many poorer and less educated Americans are opting not to get married at all. They’re living together, and often raising kids together, but deciding not to tie the knot. And studies have shown these cohabiting relationships are less stable than they used to be.

Fewer divorces, therefore, aren’t only bad news for matrimonial lawyers but a sign of America’s widening chasm of inequality. Marriage is becoming a more durable, but far more exclusive, institution.

The Bloomberg headline was, “Millennials Are Causing the U.S. Divorce Rate to Plummet.” Which proved irresistible on social media. I didn’t use the terms “millennials” (which I oppose), or “plummet,” but they don’t fundamentally misrepresent the findings.

Naturally, though, the Bloomberg headline led to other people misrepresenting the paper, like Buzzfeed, which wrote, “Well, according to a new study, millennials are now also ‘killing’ divorce.” Neither I nor Bloomberg said anyone was “killing” divorce; that was just a Twitter joke someone made, but Buzzfeed was too metameta to pick up on that. On the other hand, never complain about a Buzzfeed link, and they did link to the paper itself (generating about 800 clicks in a few days).

Then Fox 5 in New York did a Skype interview with me, and hit the bar scene to talk over the results (additional footage courtesy of my daughter, because nowadays you provide your own b-roll):

The next day Today did the story, with additional information and reporting from Bowling Green’s National Center for Family and Marriage Research, and Pew.

The Maryland news office saw the buzz and did their own story, which helped push it out.

An article in Atlantic featured an interview with Andrew Cherlin putting the trends in historical context. Rachelle Hampton in Slate tied the divorce trend to a Brookings report showing marriage is increasingly tied to higher education. On KPCC, AirTalk hosted a discussion with Megan Sweeney and Steven Martin. On Wisconsin Public Radio, Stephanie Coontz widened the discussion to put changes in marriage and divorce in historical perspective.

Rush Limbaugh read from the Bloomberg article, and was just outraged: “Now, who but deranged people would look at it this way?”

How anybody thinks like this… You have to work to be this illogical. I don’t know where this kind of thing comes from, that a plummeting divorce rate is a bad sign for America in the left’s crazy world of inequality and social justice and their quest to make everybody the same. So that’s just an example of the… Folks, that is not… That kind of analysis — and this is a sociology professor at the University of Maryland. This is not stable. That kind of thinking is not… It’s just not normal. Yet there it is, and it’s out there, and it’s be widely reported by the Drive-By Media, probably applauded and supported by others. So where is this coming from? Where is all of this indecency coming from? Why? Why is it so taking over the American left?

The Limbaugh statement might have been behind this voicemail I received from someone who thinks I’m trying to “promote chaos” to “upend the social order”:

I had a much more reasonable discussion about marriage, divorce, and inequality in this interview with Lauren Gilger in KJZZ (Phoenix public radio).

The Chicago Tribune editorial board used the news to urge parents not to rush their children toward marriage:

This waiting trend may disturb older folks who followed a more traditional (rockier?) path and may be secretly, or not so secretly, wondering if there’s something wrong with their progeny. There isn’t. Remember: Unlike previous generations, many younger people have a ready supply of candidates at their fingertips in the era of Tinder and other dating apps. They can just keep swiping right. Our advice for parents impatient to marry off a son or daughter? Relax. The older they get, the less likely you’ll be stuck paying for the wedding.

The Catholic News Agency got an expert to chime in, “If only we could convince maybe more of them to enter into marriage, we’d be doing really well.”

I don’t know how TV or local news work, but somehow this is on a lot of TV stations. Here’s a selection.

Fox Business Network did a pretty thorough job.

Some local stations added their own reporting, like this one in Las Vegas:

And this one in Buffalo:

And this one in Boise, which brought in a therapist who says young people aren’t waiting as long to start couples therapy.

Jeff Waldorf on TYT Nation did an extended commentary, blaming capitalism:

Open science process

Two things about my process here might concern some people.

The first is promoting research that hasn’t been peer reviewed. USA Today was the only report I saw that specifically mentioned the study is not peer reviewed:

The study, which has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal, has been submitted for presentation at the 2019 Population Association of America meeting, an annual conference for demographers and sociologists to present research.

But, when Steverman interviewed me I emphasized to him that it was not peer-reviewed and urged him to consult other researchers before doing the story — he told me he had already sent it to Susan Brown. Having a good reporter consult a top expert who’s read the paper is as good a quality peer review as you often get. I don’t know everything Brown told him, but the quote he used apparently showed her endorsement of the main findings:

“The change among young people is particularly striking,” Susan Brown, a sociology professor at Bowling Green State University, said of Cohen’s results. “The characteristics of young married couples today signal a sustained decline [in divorce rates] in the coming years.”

For the story to be clear enough to become a news event, the research often has to be pretty simple. That’s the case here: what I’m doing is looking at an easily-identified trend and providing my interpretation of it. If this has to be peer-reviewed, then almost anything an academic says should be. Of course, I provided the publicly verifiable data and code, and there are a lot of people with the skills to check this if it concerned them.

On the other hand, there is a lot of research that is impossible to verify that gets reported. Prominent examples include the Alice Goffman ethnographic book and the Raj Chetty et al. analysis of confidential IRS data. These were big news events, but whether they were peer reviewed or not was irrelevant because the peer reviewers had no way to know if the studies were right. My conclusion is that sharing research is the right thing to do, and sharing it with as much supporting material as you can is the responsible way to do it.

The second concern is over the fact that I posted it while it was being considered for inclusion in the Population Association of America meetings. This is similar to posting a paper that is under review at a journal. Conference papers are not reviewed blind, however, so it’s not a problem of disclosing my identity, but maybe generating public pressure on the conference organizers to accept the paper. This happens in many forms with all kinds of open science. I think we need to see hiding research as a very costly choice, one that needs to be carefully justified — rather than the reverse. Putting this in the open is the best way to approach accountability. Now the work of the conference organizers, whose names are listed in the call for papers, can be judged fairly. And my behavior toward the organizers if they reject it can also be scrutinized and criticized.

Although I would love to have the paper in the conference, in this case I don’t need this paper to be accepted by PAA, as it has already gotten way more attention than I ever expected. PAA organizers have a tough job and often have to reject a lot of papers for reasons of thematic fit as well as quality. I won’t complain or hold any grudges if it gets rejected. There’s a lot of really good demography out there, and this paper is pretty rudimentary.


Filed under In the news

The coming divorce decline

Unless something changes outside the demogosphere, the divorce rate is going to go down in the coming years.

Divorce represents a number of problems from a social science perspective.

    • Most people seem to assume “the divorce rate” is always going up, compared with the good old days, which are supposed to be the whole past but are actually represented by the anomalous 1950s.
    • On other hand, social scientists have known for a few decades that “the divorce rate” has actually been declining since the 1980s. That shows up in the official statistics, with the simple calculation — known as the refined divorce rate — of the number of divorces per 1,000 married women.
    • On the third hand, the official statistics are very flawed. The federal system, which relies on states voluntarily coughing up their divorce records, broke down in the 1990s and no one fixed it (hello, California doesn’t participate). In the debate over different ways of getting good answers, a key 2014 paper from Sheela Kennedy and Stephen Ruggles showed that the decline in divorce after 1980 was mostly because the whole married population was getting older, and older people get divorced less. That refined divorce rate doesn’t account for age patterns. When you remove the age patterns from the data, you see a continuously increasing divorce rate. Yikes!
    • On the fourth hand, Kennedy and Ruggles stopped in about 2010. Since then, the very divorce-prone, multi-marrying, multi-divorcing Baby Boomers have moved further out of their peak action years, and it’s increasingly clear that divorce rates really are falling for younger people.

In my new analysis, which I wrote up as a short paper for submission to the Population Association of America 2019 meetings, I argue that all signs point to a divorce decline in the coming years. Here is the paper on SocArXiv, where you will also find the data and code. And here is the story, in figures (click to enlarge).

1. The proportion of married women who divorce each year has fallen 18% in the decade after 2008. (There are reasons to do this for women — some neutral, some good, some bad — but one good thing nowadays is at least this includes women divorcing women.) And when you control for age, number of times married, years married, education, race/ethnicity, and nativity, it has still fallen 8%.


2. The pattern of increasing divorce at older ages, described by Susan Brown and I-Fen Lin as gray divorce, is no longer apparent. In the decade after 2008, the only apparent change in age effects is the decline at younger ages, holding other variables constant.


3. The longer term trends, identified by Kennedy and Ruggles, which I extend to 2016, show that the upward trajectory is all about older people. These are prevalences (divorced people in the population), not divorce rates, but they are good for illustrating this trend.


4. In fact, when you look just at the last decade, all of the decline in age-specific divorce rates is among people under age 45. This implies there will be more older people who have been married a long time, which means low divorce rates. Also, their kids won’t be as likely to have divorced parents, although more kids will have parents who aren’t married, which might work in the other direction. (You can ignore then under-20s, who are 0.2% of the total.)


5. Finally, to get a glimpse of the future, I looked at women who report getting married in the year before the survey, and how they have changed between 2008 and 2016 on traits associated with the risk of divorce. They clearly show a lower divorce-risk profile. They are more likely to be in their first marriage, to have college degrees, to be older, and to have no children in their households (race/ethnicity appears to be a wash, with fewer Whites but more Latinas).


6. Finally finally, I also looked at the spouses of the newly-married women, and made an arbitrary divorce-protection scale, with one point to each couple for each spouse who was: age 30 or more, White or Hispanic, BA or higher education, first marriage, and no own children. Since 2008 the high scale scores have become more common and the low scores have become rarer.


7. It’s interesting that the decline in divorce goes against the (non-expert) conventional wisdom. And it is happening at a time when public acceptance of divorce has reached record levels (which might be part of why people think it’s growing more common — less stigma). Here are the trends in attitudes from Pew and Gallup:


That’s my story — thanks for listening!


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