Just making stuff up

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The New York Times is at it again. It’s an axiom that 95 percent of statistics can be used to prove 100 percent of anything, and that’s what the Times did the other day in it’s article proclaiming a new day for women on the Upper West Side: “51% of Women Are Now Living Without Spouse.”

To get this number for their trend story, they included “women” aged 15-18. Yep, that’s right, your high school-age daughter still living with you? She’s included in this “trend.”

And what is the Times trying to prove?

William H. Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution, a research group in Washington, described the shift as “a clear tipping point, reflecting the culmination of post-1960 trends associated with greater independence and more flexible lifestyles for women.”

“For better or worse, women are less dependent on men or the institution of marriage,” Dr. Frey said. “Younger women understand this better, and are preparing to live longer parts of their lives alone or with nonmarried partners. For many older boomer and senior women, the institution of marriage did not hold the promise they might have hoped for, growing up in an ‘Ozzie and Harriet’ era.”

So, the Times is pushing this as an “empowered woman” trend, but is it really? From the Census Bureau’s figures for 2000 [scroll down about half-way]:

51% of women 15 years old and over were married and living with their spouse.

25% had never married

10% divorced

10% widowed

2% separated

The “separated” numbers would be artificially inflated today to include women whose husbands are serving in Iraq.

But look at the rest of those numbers versus the Times’ interpretation of them. The widowed number can’t be attributed to the Times’ empowered women theme. Having your husband die isn’t really an empowerment choice. The separated number, as I’ve noted, can mean all sorts of different things. There’s the foolishness of including girls aged 15-17 in this analysis. Frankly, including women in their 20s is also dishonest too, as the fact that they aren’t married at that age doesn’t reasonably indicate an animus towards marriage as an institution.

So, for the Times’ “trend” the only numbers you’re left with are the 10 percent divorced (which also doesn’t necessarily reflect a woman’s animus towards marriage — it may reflect her ex-husband’s) and the 25 percent never married — but at minimum you need to remove the 15-17 year olds.

The real number? At best the Times’ trend is somewhere in the 20 percent range.

Agenda journalism at its finest.

*UPDATE* I just saw this bit from James Lileks on the article and had to share it:

Anyway. It’s nice that the people who don’t want to get married don’t feel pressured to be married; if they’re happy, they’re happy, and no one’s hurt. But it’s the free-to-be-me vibe coupled with the when-I-grow-old-I-shall-wear-purple stuff that gets embarrassing.

Elissa B. Terris, 59, of Marietta, Ga., divorced in 2005 after being married for 34 years and raising a daughter, who is now an adult.
“A gentleman asked me to marry him and I said no,” she recalled. “I told him, ‘I’m just beginning to fly again, I’m just beginning to be me. Don’t take that away.’ ”

The gentleman should buy a telescope, identify the star responsible for his luck, and thank it.

0 Responses to "Just making stuff up"
  1. PaulZ says:

    Not to mention his last paragraph:

    “It took four people to write and report that piece. Keep that in mind the next time you hear a tale about ruthless cutbacks in the newsroom.”

    All women, I might add, and most likely “empowered.”

  2. MarkD says:

    The census was taken years ago. Besides the statistical manipulation, how can this remotely be construed as “news?”

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