One person, married three times, and divorced twice. She’s the parent of two children, one boy, and one girl. Two of her siblings are deceased, one brother and one sister gone. She moved home over sixty times, and immigrated on five occasions. Her life has included two real floods, involvement in three lawsuits and setting two legal precedents, amongst other things. One woman and one life, reduced to numbers.
Who is interested in these numbers? Mathematicians concern themselves with numbers, as do numerologists who are commonly viewed as purveyors of hocus pocus. Statisticians and actuaries also deal with numeric data, but their jobs involve seeing patterns and making predictions based on this information. The statistician takes a sample of people and gathers data in order to make assumptions about a much larger group. The actuary also looks at statistics, but for the purpose of assessing risk in terms of insurance premiums.
It will come as little surprise to those who know me, but I am not a ‘numbers person’. The numbers stated earlier are mine, as is the life, and from them you may infer that my journey has been eventful. According to numerology, the number five, and to a lesser degree eight, are influencing my life; five representing action, restlessness and life experience, and eight being connected to power and sacrifice.
I do not inherently trust statistics as I have frequently fallen outwith their expectations. They are often misleading and subject to manipulation by whomever is looking at them or paying for them. It’s also obvious that many, despite living in the information age, simply choose to ignore the numbers.
Divorce statistics are an excellent example. I married and divorced in the UK, number four in the world for marital breakdown. Only Sweden, Australia and the United States are rated higher. Young people are delaying marriage and cohabitation is on the increase but still, people will get married. If these statistics are to be trusted, 55% of marriages in Sweden will result in divorce and this begs the question, why are they getting married at all?
If I told you that should you take a particular path in the woods you would have an over 50% chance of hurting yourself, would you do it? If I explained that over half the people that had gone that way would end up miserable, wounded, depressed, insecure and financially disadvantaged to name a few, would you still go? Yet, people continue to take that path, blithe spirits every one.
Looking at Canadian research, 66% of divorces are initiated by women. There’s an interesting statistic that goes with this; of the 35-50 year old divorced females, only 48%, compared to the 61% of men are likely to remarry. The statistician then extrapolates, “Therefore, it is obvious that age discriminates against women; the older they are, the lower their chances of remarrying.” Age does play a substantial discriminatory role in life, for women and for men. Is it not also equally possible that, at that age women have mostly had their children and they are not so motivated to remarry?
Considering my own situation in a statistical way, I may be confusing predictions. A first marriage has a 50% chance of leading to divorce, 72% for second marriages and a substantial 85% for third marriages. My first marriage lasted four and a half years, my second for 8 years and I did not end either of them. Number three and I have been together for ten years, so far.
Certainly, insurance companies and their actuaries take these statistics very seriously. One insurance company lists the top ten stressful events likely to put your health at risk:
-death of a spouse
-separation from a spouse
-serving time in prison
-death of a close family member
-personal injury or illness
I’ve personally experienced seven items on the happy checklist and have lived to cynically tell my tale. My health is good but maybe an insurance company would view it differently. If marital compromise is injurious to one’s health, every successful marriage contains physically compromised couples. Also, I would add lawsuits and flooding to that list. It’s interesting that it’s excluded financial worries, as this is apparently the number one thing couples argue over, money. Getting fired is certainly stressful but so is quitting a job.
One job I once held had a certain statistical focus, and it was this that led me to quit, thus increasing my stress and no doubt, chronic uninsurability. In brief, I worked for a company, calling other companies with the goal of securing accounts worth thousands of pounds. I was told upon starting that I would be expected to reach 100 people per day, must speak to 25 ‘decision makers,’ and convert at least two of those conversations into future accounts. Right from the outset my statistics were skewed. The rest is a matter of record: I spoke to anywhere from 25-30 people per day and at least 20 of them would be ‘decision makers’ (those who had authority to decide whether to open an account with our company). Of the decision makers 10-15 of them were encouraged by me to open accounts. My diminished calls, longer conversations and focused approach resulted in hundreds of thousands of pounds of sales for the company - consistently more sales than anyone else on the two teams. Yet, I continued to be shamed in weekly meetings. The company relied so thoroughly on their statistics that they lost sight of the bigger picture.
That’s the thing with numbers; they compel you to focus on detail. At 1100 words now and several hours elapsed, I’ve hardly scratched the surface and other jobs are starting to look fairly appealing. According to a 2010 study published in the Wall Street Journal, top jobs were ranked based on environment, income, employment outlook, physical demands and stress. The study rated actuary as the number one job in the United States. Now there’s a question to leave you with, of those that get married, how many do you think are actuaries?
Whatever your statistics, a certain scepticism is advisable. Know that your existence is worth more than the sum of all its parts. No life can be reduced to numbers.
Additional research: (Click on titles to view articles or sites)
Marriage Report, CBC News
Marriage Breakdown in North America, Baha’i Notebook
Proportion Married at Lowest Levels, Population Ref. Bureau
Divorce Rate by Country, Nation Master
How to Keep Stress Out of Your Life, Blue Cross
© S. Marian, Oct. 30, 2012