More couples are in it for the long haul

Fewer marriages in Canada are ending in divorce than is commonly thought, according to a new survey that debunks the popular notion that nearly half of all marriages fail and the prevailing view that divorce is on the rise, wrote the National Post Nov. 20.

In fact, the latest estimates suggest that 38 per cent of married couples in Canada will divorce by their 30th wedding anniversary, a rate that has been dropping through the 1990s, according to the report released yesterday by the Vanier Institute of the Family.

The percentages range from 22 per cent in Newfoundland and Labrador to 48 per cent in Quebec. In the US, the figure is 44 per cent.

The persistently cited statistic that half of all marriages end in divorce stems from a misunderstanding of how divorce rates are calculated and the dominance of American figures from the 1980s, when divorces peaked and half of all marriages in the US did end, says Anne-Marie Ambert, professor emerita of sociology in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, and author of the report.

When divorce rates peaked in Canada in 1987, there were 362 divorces per 100,000 population, but that number fell through the 1990s and now sits at 221 divorces per 100,000 people. Marriage rates have also been falling as more couples opt to cohabit, and the breakup of those unions isn’t captured in divorce statistics, according to the report, so couple dissolution may actually have increased.

The average marriage that ended in divorce in 2005 lasted 14.5 years, or 1.7 years longer than a decade ago. But there is also no sign that Canadian divorce rates will drop in the future.

Researchers have estimated that 30 per cent of Canadian children born in 1984 witnessed the end of their parents’ marriage or cohabitation by age 15, according to the report, and almost half of all children from divorced families will see their parents divorce again.

“What we’re not talking about is the impact of parent conflict after the divorce and while they’re separated,” says Ambert. “It’s what happens after – when the parents bicker over everything, over every cent, over every visit, and the kids are placed in the middle of that – that is bound to be very bad.”

Most children of divorce do not experience severe developmental problems, she emphasizes, but they are at increased risk for depression, anxiety, behavioural problems, receiving bad grades or leaving school earlier, becoming young offenders or experiencing their own relationship problems down the road.

  • A just-released study from the Vanier Institute of the Family by York University Professor Emerita Anne-Marie Ambert, titled "Divorce: Facts, Causes and Consequences", vindicates assumptions many conservatives hold instinctively, and may provoke some discomfort in “progressives”, wrote the National Post Nov. 20.

To begin with, some good news: Divorce rates are not as high as we thought. Divorce rates have been coming down since the 1990s and since 1997 have plateaued. In fact, first marriages have a 67 per cent chance of lasting a lifetime.

According to Ambert, divorce rates peaked in 1987, the result, she says, of the trend toward no-fault divorce that began in 1968. Divorce slowly lost its stigma and the numbers rose as the reasons for divorce became more and more trivial.

Why did the numbers start going down? One reason, the study notes, is the tendency for people to marry later.

Ambert finds that there are two kinds of divorce: those resulting from an unhappy marriage, and those resulting from “a weak commitment to marriage.” She found that “some divorces are avoidable and unnecessary” and that “a sizable proportion of marriages that end in divorce were actually quite ‘salvageable’, even happy, and that many of these ex-spouses are no better off after.”

Why do salvageable marriages end in divorce? Ambert cites, amongst other reasons: the de-sacralization of marriage, a consequence of religion’s demise and the rise of secularism; the lack of stigma to divorce and the blame-free ease with which it can be accomplished; and the rise of the ideology of gratification of individual desires. These and other factors have lowered people’s humility and tolerance for compromise.

Cohabitation does not confer the sense of commitment that marriage does – no surprise here for traditionalists. And serial cohabitation is a greater risk factor for divorce later. Moreover, children of cohabitational relationships are at vastly greater risk of experiencing parental breakup than children of married parents.

The consequences, Ambert notes, are rather dire, for “research is unanimous to the effect that children do far better cognitively and behaviourally when their father remains an active parent.”

Divorce and remarriage don’t always produce happiness, except for those who had been in high-stress, bad marriages before. And there are “successful” divorces. But, Ambert concludes, “For society as a whole, the dissolution of average to good marriages…is a costly proposition in terms of consequent problems for children.”

  • Ambert also spoke about her latest study of divorce, on Winnipeg’s CJOB 68 Radio Nov. 19.

Osgoode grad sworn in as superior court justice

In a lavish ceremony, conducted in Sudbury’s historical courthouse Thursday, Dan Cornell (LLB ’78) was sworn in as Sudbury’s newest member of the Superior Court of Justice, wrote The Sudbury Star Nov. 20.

A partner in the law firm of Cornell, Mortlock and Sillberg in Lindsay, Ont., Cornell replaces Superior Court Justice Paul Kane who is relocating to Ottawa.

Cornell began his nearly three-decade-long tenure as a lawyer in Lindsay after graduating, in 1978, from Osgoode Hall Law School. He was called to the Ontario bar in 1980 and has appeared before all levels of court in this province and recently argued two cases before the Supreme Court of Canada.

Aiming for glory at world championships

York student Mckenzie Wright is a member of the Canadian amateur boxing team that is preparing for the world championships in Italy next week, wrote the Burlington Post Nov. 19 in a story about members of the Bay Area Athletic Club who will be travelling to Trieste, Italy, from Nov. 23 to 28 to compete with 900 athletes from 63 countries.

Owner of former Murray Ross home discovers its history

When he purchased his Bennington Heights [East York] home in 1995, Rick Armstrong set about stripping away the “Georgian features and trim and all kinds of crap” that had been hiding the “little gem” that architect and University of Toronto Professor James A. Murray had designed for the founding president of York University, Murray Ross, in 1958, wrote The Globe and Mail Nov. 20.

Inspired, Armstrong set out to learn more…. This portion of Bennington Heights was originally known as Heathbridge Park, a co-op planned by Murray and his students in 1946 (Murray lived there for a time, as did Margaret Atwood’s parents).

York rapid busway opens

All the government smilers will be at York University this morning to open the long-awaited busway to the school, wrote the Toronto Sun Nov. 20.

The $38-million right-of-way for buses is supposed to trim seven minutes off the 20-minute trip between Downsview station and the University – made by hundreds of buses a day. The six-kilometre route includes a trip across the Finch hydro corridor, taking buses off Sheppard Avenue West, and up a new private road on York’s property.

A few extra pounds may help elderly live longer

Prior to reaching the golden years, too much body fat tends to increase the risk of dying, but extra weight may have the opposite effect for older adults, wrote the Edmonton Journal Nov. 20 in a story about a new study.

Higher fat mass in older adults “is thought to be an energy reserve that helps the individual survive illnesses and chronic conditions,” Jennifer Kuk, professor in York’s School of Kinesiology & Health Science, noted in an e-mail to Reuters news service.

On air

  • Psychologist Debra Pepler, Distinguished Research Professor of Psychology in York’s Faculty of Health and the LaMarsh Centre for Research on Violence & Conflict Resolution, spoke about the success of various countries in combating bullying, on CBC TV’s “The National” Nov. 19.