Math is hard; divorce is harder

Time for another GetStatistics post. Check out this lede from the Daily Texan story that ran under the headline, "Conservative Christians divorce more, study says." It's almost an exact replica of how the mainstream media covered a porn study a few years back. Here's how this sad example of a divorce story gets started:

Divorce is more common among conservative Christians and young people, according to a recent study.

University of Iowa sociology professor Jennifer Glass presented her study on skyrocketing divorce rates in regions highly populated with conservative Christians to an overflowing crowd in Burdine Hall on Friday.

"Politically and religiously conservative states, especially in the Deep South, exhibit higher divorce rates than politically and religiously liberal states in the Northeast and Midwest," Glass wrote in her study.

Now, it is possible to compare the marriage rate of states that are deemed to be politically and religiously conservative with states that are deemed to be politically and religiously liberal. And hopefully a study making such a comparison would control for any number of variables (race, income, religiosity, etc.).

However, journalists must never forget this: It is never possible -- unless a state is completely aligned with a particular religious or political group -- to say that its divorce rate can tell you about the divorce rate of a particular subgroup.

Thus, the first line -- that divorce is "more common" among conservative Christians and young people -- does not match up with what the sociologist says, which is about state-level data.

The rest of the article is fine. It even explains that rates are lower in other states because of all the shacking going on. But I do think the reporter might want to search for better quotes:

Journalism graduate student Mark Coddington got married at age 22 and has been married for four years. He said his Nebraska hometown exemplifies the conservative Christian culture of Glass's study.

"I have been around that culture, so I really understand why more and more marriages end the way they do," Coddington said.

I'm assuming the Daily Texan is completely written and edited by student reporters. This would be a perfect example of an opportunity for journalism students to learn how to follow up with the Nebraska young marriage expert, seeking some specific details. Obviously, "And why is that?" might be a good follow-up question so we can get more additional facts. The reporter did at least speak with the director of the University Catholic Center about what marriage prep entails.

And I wouldn't be commenting on this Daily Texan piece at all if it weren't for the fact that I saw it picked up by so many other outlets.

Yet another bad journalism chain reaction.

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