Census Bureau May Stop Tracking Marriage and Divorce Rates: What Does That Mean for Americans?
The United States Census Bureau has proposed a radical change that could alter the way Americans think about marriage and divorce.
The organization, which collects population and socioeconomic data across the country, has suggested putting an end to tracking marriage and divorce rates on their American Community Survey.
Experts, however, have said this would be unwise of the Census Bureau, who called the marriage and divorce data “low benefit and low cost.”
Brad Wilcox, director of The Home Economics Project at the American Enterprise Institute, said that studying marriage and divorce rates gives the country a broader picture of the American family.
“What happens in the family doesn’t stay in the family,” Wilcox said. “It reverberates and ripples across the entire society in economic, social and cultural ways that are important to track.”
Other experts say that the implications of not tracking the divorce rate go beyond social research and could affect economic policies, like those pertaining to Social Security.
Data about marriage and divorce helps the Social Security Administration determine how many people will be divorced or married when they go to collect benefits.
But these numbers are already difficult enough to track without the Census Bureau pulling the questions from their surveys.
Although current estimates state that one divorce happens on an average of every 36 seconds in the U.S., current data from the Pew Research Center shows that many states either don’t report, or underreport, their divorce statistics.
Add in the fact that January sees a big boom in divorces every year after the end of the holiday season — something that most people wouldn’t know without such valuable data.
Without the data from the Census Bureau, many people would only have tabloid news to go by to get an idea of the bigger picture of divorces in the U.S. — and the lifestyles of the rich and famous don’t portray the reality for many Americans. For instance, Sue Ann Arnall, the now-former wife of oil tycoon Harold Hamm, received a nearly $975 million settlement in her divorce. While that might sound exorbitant to most Americans, it’s a relatively paltry sum when compared to Hamm’s $18 billion fortune.
Steven Ruggles, president of the Population Association of America, said that not studying the divorce rate would have meant missing the recent discovery of high divorce rates among baby boomers. It also lets average Americans know about how their Social Security funds and other assets are affected.
When the Census Bureau allowed the public to comment on the proposed change, they received hundreds of comments, including a letter on the subject from Ruggles.