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What’s Wrong with the Claim that 90% of Married People Say They’d Marry Their Spouse Again?

90 % of people would remarry their spouse, not counting those who wouldn’t.

A PT blogger recently seemed quite impressed with a CBS poll showing that 90% of currently married Americans said that they would marry their spouse again. He called those results "remarkable." He titled his post, "And they lived happily ever after." PT featured this question from him at the top of the blogger page: "Would you remarry your spouse?"

So what's wrong with that?

If the answer is not immediately obvious, consider this thought experiment. You are a parent, and your child Stephen comes home with the results of the test he took in school that day, joyfully boasting that he got a grade of 90. You look down at his marked-up exam and find that in fact, his grade was 54. Huh?

Turns out, Stephen simply set aside the first 40% of the questions he got wrong. (Let's say 40 questions out of a 100-item test.) Of the 60 questions that were left, he got 90% right. So he told his parents he got 90% right. The other 40 questions, he explained, weren't a good match with what he had studied, so it is clear that they should not have been included. So, as far as he was concerned, even though he only got 54 of the 100 questions right, his test score should be 90. Remarkable, indeed.

That's what's going on with the CBS poll. The people who are currently married do not include all of the people who ever got married. Most notably, more than 40% of people who marry get divorced. Obviously, the vast majority of those people would not marry that spouse again. So, at most, the currently married include just 60% of those who ever married. Of those, 90% would marry their spouse again. That's 90% of 60%, for a grand total of 54% who would marry their spouse again. Still impressed?

I remember hearing Larry King telling a guest, not too long ago, that his wife was The One. I'm sure that if asked, he would happily proclaim that he would marry her again. In fact, he actually did marry one of his wives again, but not the current one. The reigning Mrs. King is wife #7, in Marriage #8.

The blogger seems to consider himself covered by the first few lines in his post:

"The physical/mental health benefits associated with being married are clear to anyone who's experienced a successful bond... If you've never been married or if you found yourself mismatched then, of course, you wouldn't know."

That's a bit like the child Stephen telling his parents that those first 40% of the questions he got wrong should not count, because they were mismatched with what he knew.

I think the quote also shows the blogger's ascientific, or perhaps even anti-scientific mindset. Hey, if something seems clear to you, who cares what the data say? And the only way you can know about anything is to experience it yourself. Too bad, all you female scientists who have men in your studies, or all you whites who include a variety of races and ethnicities in your research or, I suppose, all you humans trying to study whales. How could you ever understand? The blogger's position is especially interesting in light of the fact that some people argue just the opposite - if you belong to a particular group, you cannot do research on that group because, of course, you would be biased.

Now about those supposed "physical/mental benefits associated with being married": They are mythical, as I've explained in Singled Out and here and in many other posts to this Living Single blog. But I'm going by the data and methodological expertise, not by what seems intuitively clear to me. As a scientist and a teacher, that's the approach I try to encourage.

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