To have and to hold

Roughly 42% of marriages in England and Wales are expected to end in divorce. You can use that as “proof” of many theories: marriage doesn’t work, heterosexual marriage doesn’t work, we’re marrying too late or too early, we’re marrying with unrealistic expectations… whatever. But whatever you use this to prove about marriage, you’d be wrong.

I’m not commenting on whether marriage can bring you happiness or a stable home life. But one thing it definitely can give you: a measurable starting point for a certain period in a relationship. The Office of National Statistics doesn’t know when you had your first kiss or went on your first holiday together.  It doesn’t join in debates about whether it “counts” as a first date if you’re just meeting for coffee. But it does know when you got married. And it can take the group of people-who-got-married and measure that group for outcomes.

There’s no control group. If you want to measure whether marriage “works” in comparison to an unmarried control group, you can’t use people who haven’t committed at all as your control group – certainly not if your definition of “works” is about lasting commitments. So you’ll need to somehow find a definition of non-marriage-based commitment, find the people who’ve made that commitment and then measure their outcomes. The ONS doesn’t have the resources to shilly-shally about with that.

I’m not defending or attacking marriage here. I’m just saying that using statistics about marriage to draw conclusions about marriage itself is more complicated than you might think.

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