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[Opinion] Divorce Statistics

Posted April. 20, 2004 21:23,   


They say there are three types of lies in this world: “white lies, downright lies, and statistics.” This is an epigram widely believed by the study of statistics. As a matter of fact, statistics usually become the foundation for driving a particular policy forward and are often misused as a method to distort or misrepresent the truth. “Autonomous” public opinion polls that each party announce during the election or “resident” public opinion polls by the office of administration are not to be easily trusted. Even Winston Churchill of England was quoted as stating, “I only trust statistics that I manipulate on my own.”

The Office of Court Administration pointed out that there are problems with the divorce statistics of the past. Previous divorce statistics employed the method of “simply comparing the number of cases of marriage with that of divorce” for a given year. According to this method, there are 306,600 couples married and 145,000 divorced, which calculates to a 47.4 percent divorce rate. The Office of Court Administration proposes “the method of computing the divorce rate by comparing the overall number of marriages to the overall number of divorces among those who have been married.” As a result, correlating 28.15 million cases of marriage to 2.62 million cases of divorce from the overall existing population reduces the divorce rate to 9.3 percent.

What attracts us is the grounds on which the Office of Court Administration proposed the problem. They stated, “It is to settle the people’s confusion towards divorce and to prevent a possible emotional domino effect in relation to the issue of divorce.” In other words, the misleading statistics of making the divorce rate seem higher than it normally is can lead people to acknowledge that divorce is common, not exceptional, and can give the impression to wonder, “Am I stupid to be putting up with it or am I old-fashioned?” In fact, there are cases of women eventually reconciliating with their husbands due to the mere fact that they refused to let their children walk down the aisle alone.

Considering the fact that one out of two couples according to the old method, and one out of 10 couples according to the Office of Court Administration are divorced, the magic of statistics is surprising. We can’t deny that some part of us actually feels quite relieved. However, simply because of the change in statistical method doesn’t indicate that divorce rates are actually decreasing. The “sensible divorce index” felt around us is quite alarming. The fixed idea that, in terms of divorce, the husband is the perpetrator and the wife as the victim has long since been broken. An unencumbered divorce might be better than an unhappy marriage. Nevertheless, the resulting psychological wounds will probably last for a while.

Editorial Writer Oh Myung-chul oscar@donga.com