Item from the Smart Marriages Archive, reproduced in the Divorce Statistics Collection

WILLIAM R. MATTOX JR.: Diamonds are forever
Copyright © 1999 Nando Media
Copyright © 1999 Scripps Howard News Service
http://www2.nando.net/noframes/story/0,2107,31812-51154-381237-0,00.html

(March 28, 1999 4:00 a.m. EST http://www.nandotimes.com) - As every ballplayer
preparing for Opening Day knows, the game of baseball revolves around home.
Pitchers try to throw the ball over home plate. Batters try to hit home runs.
Runners try to make it home safely. And fans root, root, root for the home
team.

Apparently, baseball's preoccupation with home is no accident. A research
study by Denver University psychologist Howard Markman shows that the average
divorce rate in cities that have a major league baseball team is 28 percent
lower than in cities that lack a major league franchise.

While Markman insists this finding is just a coincidence, his research does
raise a rather intriguing question: What geographic differences do exist in
divorce rates?

Perhaps the easiest way to answer this question is to think not of baseball,
but of another warm weather accompaniment - bathing suits. Strangely enough,
the divorce rate of any place in the continental United States can be reliably
predicted by knowing the number of days out of the year that women there can
wear swimsuits. Generally, the more warm weather days suitable for bathing
attire, the higher the divorce rate; the more cold weather days unsuitable for
swimwear, the lower the divorce rate.

To illustrate, draw a line across the midsection of the continental United
States (along the northern borders of North Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas,
Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona, and continuing through southern Nevada and
central California). More than 60 percent of the total U.S. population lives
above what might be called "the tan line." Yet less than half of all divorces
occur here, and all 10 states with the lowest divorce rates are above the tan
line.

In fact, believe it or not, Teddy Kennedy's home state of Massachusetts is No.
1 in marital stability. Donald Trump's New York follows close behind.
Conversely, almost all of the states with the highest divorce rates are found
below the tan line. And four of these states - Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma,
and Tennessee - are located right in the heart of the Bible belt.

The irony here, of course, is that the Bible is hardly neutral on the subject
of divorce. The Old Testament prophet Malachi reports that God "hates
divorce." And in the New Testament, Jesus condemns divorce "for any reason
except sexual immorality" (Matthew 5:32)

In truth, the National Institute for Healthcare Research says weekly
churchgoers throughout the U.S. are less apt to divorce than people who claim
"no religion" and those who attend religious services less than once a week.
Devout Catholics have especially low divorce rates - apparently because
Catholic parishes often take the responsibility of marriage preparation and
enrichment more seriously than Protestant churches do.

Thus, one of the reasons for the relatively low divorce rates in the Northeast
and Midwest is because these regions tend to have a higher concentration of
Catholics than do other geographic areas.

University of Texas sociologist Norval Glenn says another factor affecting
regional differences in divorce is "social rootedness." His research shows
that people who live in stable communities are less apt to divorce because
they are more likely to be enmeshed in an inter-generational social network
that helps them evaluate potential mates, offers them marital advice and
support, and expects them to work through any domestic problems that may
arise. Thus, the Sun Belt's higher divorce rates are due, in part, to the fact
that this region has more social instability than less-transient areas in the
Northeast and Midwest.

In many ways, it is too bad that America's divorce problem isn't attributable
to the absence of professional baseball. Because it would be far easier to
expand the number of professional baseball teams than to make the kind of
changes needed to dramatically reduce the number of divorces in America.

But if we are serious about strengthening marriages in this country - and we
should be - then we should be encouraging churches to make marriage
preparation, enrichment, and restoration a high priority. We should be
imploring businesses to reduce the volume of forced geographic transfers and
job-related travel. And we should be helping couples to see that divorce
rarely solves problems - it usually just exchanges one set of problems for
another.

Obviously, changing cultural attitudes about divorce will not be easy. But a
nation that still fondly remembers "old school" ballplayers like Joe DiMaggio
- and still cherishes historic ballparks like Chicago's Wrigley Field - ought
to be able to regain its commitment to the time-honored ideal of lifelong
marriage.

We ought to be able to renew our appreciation for the idea that "diamonds are
forever." We ought to be able to find our way home.

William R. Mattox Jr., a Virginia writer, serves on the board of Marriage
Savers, a national organization that promotes marriage preparation,
enrichment, and restoration. He can be reached at bmattox@earthlink.net.

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