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Where do divorce statistics come from?

A great deal of attention is paid to the rate of marriage and divorce among American couples. For many in Maryland, however, the source of those statistics is something of a mystery. A great deal of what we know about marriage and divorce comes from the American Community Survey, which is issued by the U.S. Census Bureau every four years. Recently, the inclusion of questions regarding marriage and divorce has been questioned, leading to debate on the issue.

While divorce is a matter of public record, some states do not report that data. In fact, as many as 20 percent of the population is not included in state-issued divorce numbers. This leaves the census as the most reliable means of understanding how marriage and divorce shifts over time. Having this information serves many purposes.

For example, policymakers look at marriage and divorce data to determine how American households are shaped, and how that might change as the Baby Boomer generation continues to age. Programs such as Social Security rely on this type of data to plan for the cost of issuing future benefits, as household structure affects how benefits are drawn. In this way, information collected on the census questionnaire impacts all Americans.

When considering whether the U.S. Census should continue to ask respondents about their marital status, it is important to understand the wider implications of this data. Many in Maryland find the divorce rate to be an interesting and sometimes very personal topic of discussion. However, there are far more important uses for the statistics amassed via the census.

Source: CNN Money, "Should we stop tracking U.S. marriage and divorce rates?", Kathryn Vasel, Jan. 8, 2015

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