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A view on research methodology and the national divorce rate

What's with the divorce rate?

That is the very simple question asked in a recent family law article written by Robert Hughes, Jr., a university professor. The professor's brief biography appended at the end of his piece written yesterday in the Huffington Post states that he writes "about the science of divorce."

That should tell readers in Florida and elsewhere something, namely, that Hughes isn't much persuaded by divorce-related data that emerges anecdotally or in the absence of rigorous research protocols and safeguards.

There is certainly a lot of that. Hughes points specifically to what he says is evident deficiency in the quality of data that divorce researchers have culled through and cited over past decades.

It has likely led to wrong conclusions, he says, especially a finding that the national divorce rate topped out historically in the late 1970s and has been persistently on the wane since.

Newly emerging evidence that Hughes views as being of comparatively superior quality undercuts that view. It posits, instead, that the rate has been going up -- and steadily so -- over the past three decades.

What would contribute to such a disconnect in research results?

Hughes finds the work done by researchers at the University of Minnesota highly creditable and endorses the view of its authors that the quality of much of the source materials relied upon in the past has simply been marginal. Additionally, there have been issues in its reporting.

Going forward, Hughes says, the annual American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau should be invaluable for divorce researchers and routinely used. That tool, which contains measurable divorce-related data from across the country, has been available for researchers’ close scrutiny since 2008, and Hughes believes it should be the cornerstone for future research.

Source: Huffington Post, "Is the divorce rate going up rather than going down?" Robert Hughes, Jr., March 6, 2014

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