Will Nats Make D.C. Divorce Rate Plummet?
The Washington Nationals are in contention to be the worst major league baseball team since the legendary 1962 New York Mets, but does the mere presence of a baseball franchise so powerfully change men's attitudes that it can substantially reduce a metropolitan area's divorce rate?
Researchers at University of Denver and Texas A&M have published a study that says cities with Major League Baseball franchises boast divorce rates 28 percent lower than rates in other cities that don't yet have teams. In Denver, for example, the divorce rate fell by 20 percent between 1990--before the Colorado Rockies were created--and 2000, seven years after the team's debut. That's a 25 percent larger drop than the nationwide divorce rate took over the same period.
The study found similarly big declines in divorce rates in other areas that added baseball teams over that period--Phoenix, Miami and Tampa Bay. The study didn't look at Washington because we didn't get a franchise until 2005. But the consistently steeper declines in cities that added baseball do seem to mean something, even if our Correlation/Causation Suspicion Alarm is getting a bit itchy.
According to an account in Business Week, the researchers say the drop in divorce in baseball-equipped cities may be explained as simply as this: "Going to a baseball game and not talking about relationship issues, but rather having fun and talking as friends is one of the ways to protect and preserve love," psychology professor Howard Markman told the magazine.
The researchers who worked on the baseball piece are specialists in marital issues--their recent studies determined that the quality of relationships with in-laws has a direct impact on marital happiness (duh), and that a whopping 90 percent of marriages suffer a hit to the happiness quotient after the birth of a first child.
Now I'd like to see how the winning or losing nature of a team alters whatever social benefit the presence of a sport might have in a given city. My bet: It doesn't matter. Of course, the team probably has to have a real following for its existence to have any impact on relationships. But lovable losers such as the Chicago Cubs or even once-great franchises that have been allowed to turn into mediocrities or worse, such as the New York Knicks or Washington Redskins, probably have as powerful an effect on how people relate to each other as classic regional success stories such as the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox.
The stereotypical effect of pro sports on marriage is exactly the opposite of that theorized by these psychologists--think of all those decades of TV shows and comedy routines featuring the miserable "football widow." Does baseball have a different effect on marriage from other sports because it's more of a family sport or a more affordable ticket? Or was the stereotype always wrong--did something that consistently distracted and entertained guys somehow strengthen relationships by giving women some breathing space?
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