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Not actually "more likely to be killed by a terrorist"

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Not actually "more likely to be killed by a terrorist"

Postby kurt_w » Tue Apr 03, 2012 7:41 am

Back in 1986, Newsweek had this infamous cover story:

Image

It was based on some (obviously flawed) statistical analysis that suggested that women who didn't marry early would almost certainly never get married. Newsweek's correspondent Pamela Abramson added a not-intended-to-be-taken-seriously line suggesting that women who were still single at 40 were more likely to be killed by a terrorist than to find a mate. (Wildly untrue, but it ensured the Newsweek story's immortality in the popular imagination).

Twenty years later, Newsweek finally got around to apologizing for its cover story, though by now who knows how many millions of people have internalized the idea that if a woman doesn't marry by 40, or 35, or 30, she'll be single all her life.

With the 2010 census data now available, it's possible to check up on the original claims. Marina Adshade has done this, and here's how the numbers turn out:

What are the odds that a woman who's single at age 30 will eventually marry?
Newsweek (1986): 20%
Reality: 75% (or higher, since yes, it's even possible for women who were still single at age 54 during the 2010 census to get married later in life)

What are the odds that a woman who's single at age 35 will eventually marry?
Newsweek: 5%
Reality: 69% (so far)

What are the odds that a woman who's single at age 40 will eventually marry?
Newsweek: "more likely to be killed by a terrorist"
Reality: 68%

The fact that Newsweek's 1986 cover story was wrong isn't news. But it's neat that somebody went through the census data and figured out exactly how wrong.
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Re: Not actually "more likely to be killed by a terrorist"

Postby snoqueen » Tue Apr 03, 2012 10:04 am

Geez, Making it clear to 65 and staying single the whole time was more of a feat than I realized!
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Re: Not actually "more likely to be killed by a terrorist"

Postby kurt_w » Tue Apr 03, 2012 10:40 am

snoqueen wrote:Geez, Making it clear to 65 and staying single the whole time was more of a feat than I realized!


The census bureau has stats on timing of marriage here. For white women, in their 60s, about 4% to 5% have never married. So, yes, you're in a select group. Of course, what matters is whether people are happy with their circumstances.

I just noticed something kind of odd in the data. I'm looking at the numbers for people in the category "married once, and still married". It seems like you'd expect that number to peak some time in, say, the 30s, and then decline as people get older (because the more time goes by, the more chance there is for divorce/widowing).

That's exactly what you see with women -- the percentage that are "married once, still married" peaks at age 35-39, and then drops.

But for men, the number peaks at 35-39, drops slightly through their 50s, then begins increasing again. For us white males, more of us are "married once, still married" in our 70s than in our 40s.

I'm scratching my head over that. All I can think of is that men in long-term, stable, first marriages must tend to live longer.

From their 60s to their 70s, the proportion of men who were never married, or divorced, or divorced and remarried, all drop. The only categories that increase (percentagewise) are widowers (understandably) and guys who are still married to their first wives.

That seems kind of interesting.
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Re: Not actually "more likely to be killed by a terrorist"

Postby Henry Vilas » Tue Apr 03, 2012 10:52 am

Married men tend to live longer than single men. For women, it's a wash.
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Re: Not actually "more likely to be killed by a terrorist"

Postby kurt_w » Tue Apr 03, 2012 11:08 am

Henry Vilas wrote:Married men tend to live longer than single men. For women, it's a wash.


Yeah, but it looks like that effect is mostly for guys in their first marriage.

As a percentage of the population, guys who are currently divorced drops by 43% from age 60s to age 70+. The percentage of guys who were divorced and remarried also drops, by 34%.

In contrast the proportion of guys who are on their first marriage actually increases (by 2%; which is not a lot, but it's a big contrast with the divorced or remarried guys).

Maybe I'm making a mistake in interpretation somehow. But it does appeal to my inner romantic.
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Re: Not actually "more likely to be killed by a terrorist"

Postby Peanutbutter » Tue Apr 03, 2012 11:29 am

Henry Vilas wrote:Married men tend to live longer than single men.


That's not true. It just seems a lot longer for the married men.
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Re: Not actually "more likely to be killed by a terrorist"

Postby kurt_w » Tue Apr 03, 2012 11:36 am

Peanutbutter wrote:That's not true. It just seems a lot longer for the married men.


Clearly, you've never been happily married.
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Re: Not actually "more likely to be killed by a terrorist"

Postby Remember_Me » Tue Apr 03, 2012 2:33 pm

kurt_w wrote:
Clearly, you've never been happily married.


Happily married?
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