Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Lies, damned lies and divorce statistics

Here is a quote from a 1988 article in the New York Times, the USA's "newspaper of record":
"... after divorce, the ex-wife's disposable income falls, on the average, by 70 percent, while the ex-husband's rises by 40 percent. For women, divorce can be the gateway to destitution; for men, it's more likely to be a golden parachute to freedom."
It sounds good, doesn't it, to be a divorced dad in the 80's? Profitable, even? Here, it would seem, is a good reason to believe that altogether too many men were jumping ship on their families, abandoning their kids and lighting up the town with their newly discovered freedom.

Of course, many were scandalized.and these numbers heavily influenced American divorce policy for several years, and, inevitably, that of other western countries too. They have been cited in hundreds of newspaper, social science, and law review articles. They have featured in court cases all the way up to the Supreme Court.

That 73% became part of the bedrock of the woman-as-victim culture, trotted out at every possible opportunity to reinforce the impression that it was dad who was bad and getting away with it. It was used to establish many of the policies now designed to plunder divorced fathers for their property, savings and salaries, all in the name of fairness in divorce.

The only problem is that the number, 73%, is a lie. Even at the time, other researchers could not duplicate it, it should have been more like 27%, tops. One would think that in any respectable scientific tradition, one result which was wildly off from everyone else's and apparently irreproducible, would attract more skepticism than attention, but no-one cared about the party poopers, it was too much fun parading the big, scary 73% up and down the street.

Lenore Weitzman, a professor then of Harvard University, gave us that 73%. Oh, she probably didn't know it wasn't true, not at first, but she surely did when she spent years keeping her original data away from other researchers who were forced to appeal to the National Science Foundation, her source of funds. When they eventually got the data, it was in no shape to be properly reviewed and it was more years later before someone finally disentangled it to find the correct result should have been a drop of 27% for women, and a much smaller 10% rise for men, and that was back in the 80's.

Weitzman, not exactly contrite, fobbed it off on some nameless research assistant (yeah, sure, how likely is that?). 11 years later. 11 years of writing it into the mythology of divorce, of making sure lots of fair-minded people were well-primed to believe divorced dads didn't care about their children, weren't paying enough, to revile the deadbeat dad and eventually, today, to approve of plastering his face on our pizza boxes. 11 years too late for who knows how many men pushed onto the street, beggared, kept from their children, or driven to suicide.

Why did it take her 11 years to 'fess up? Could it have been something to do with all the feting by an audience of admiring feminists whose prejudices were so gloriously confirmed? Could it have something to do with her circulation among the most prestigious universities of the land (at least Princeton after Harvard)? Was there just too much face to be lost by telling the truth?

Where is she now? Here, named professor in the Women's Studies department (where else?) at George Mason University in Virgina. OK, so it's not Harvard or Princeton, but it's job security and at least some recognition and not too much of a fall from grace for the source of "the most widely known and influential social science results" of the last couple of decades of the 20th century, proven to be false. There can't be that many "scientists" out there who've done so well out of such enormously public success only to have their results proven wrong. Curious that the fall from grace was not so public, and not so very much of a fall at all, is it not?

(Much of the information in this blog post, and the quote in the last paragraph, come from Sanford L. Braver's book "Divorced Dads, Shattering the Myths" which is full of nuggets like this.)


Anonymous said...

I'm a child of divorce.

I'm not really sure where to start, but basically, i'm here after sending my father various links from this website. At the age to 23, I realized a lot of things, a lot of injustice that created a bit of resentment towards my mother and further grew respect for my father. I'm a bit shy to say too much more except that I understand, and I want to learn more and change the way things are handled, the way men are treated in general in todays society. I'm tired of being treated like some mindless slob that only knows basic math and english, that is just there to serve the needs of a woman, and being treated like a chauvinist pig when, in reality, i've been nothing short of nice to all the women i've been involved with only to be shit on as every american girl seems to have some sense of entitlement because she has breasts and must meet a specific criteria before i'm allowed to address her verbally, like i'm not deserving of basic human respect. I guess i'm just rambling at this point, and i'll do my best to put my thoughts together at a later time and leave more words. Thank you for doing what you do. It really changed things for me at the age of 22.

JQ75 said...

I've heard that quote recently too. And it didn't make sense. It's amazing that this BS was passed off as a scientific study.

Of course the snail paced court isn't likely to realize these are bogus for some time. Why haven't there been real studies to refute this and why haven't they gotten the same acclaim?

Anonymous said...

Turn word verification off and you might get more comments, its in settings on blogger when you log in.

Im with you pal keep your chin up. Eternal Bachelor turned thier word verfication off

John Doe said...

bmr, you are very welcome, I am flattered that my writings might have helped you with your relationship with your father. Good luck, and don't give up on all women, there are still plenty out there with good heads on their shoulders.

jq75, there have been real studies which do refute this, many of them, but they are less salaciously interesting and less useful in the pursuit of a victim-oriented agenda. I put my hopes in the assumption that some of the people who make real decisions in this world do actually consider the evidence as a whole. It's touchingly naive of me, I know.

anon, I keep word verification on to keep out the spam, does it really deter commenters...?

Anonymous said...

It does. I actually had to go through 3-4 times posting my comment once, frustrating.