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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?

By Marc Fisher |  April 28, 2009; 8:10 AM ET  | Category:  Baseball , Culture , Family
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Oh well Marc I guess the Nats have one beneficial effect. I can remember when the Senators left and waited for the day MLB reurned to DC area. i could never be an O's fan. And it seems I am still waiting for MLB to return to our area. The Lerner's have not fielded a MLB team a double A team maybe but not a MLB team.

I had decided to go see some games at the new stadium this year. It was going to be difficult for me since my dad and I used to go but I will not tarnish those memories with the garbage product the Lerners put on the field.

Lerners if you can't or wont field a MLB caliber team either take your franchise and leave or sell it bubbas. You are a joke. Wilbon is right!

Posted by: sheepherder | April 28, 2009 9:47 AM

For cryin' out loud! There're 30 teams in 6 divisions; they can't all have winning records or be leading the division. It's a TEAM, it takes time to build, it's not plug-and-play.

Posted by: ronjaboy | April 28, 2009 10:50 AM

The Lerners started with a team they were not awarded a new franchise.

They are the new worst owners in pro sports right behind Danny Boy Snyder

Posted by: sheepherder | April 28, 2009 12:37 PM

...so, paying large amounts of money to go to a stadium full of people and then watching grown men run around a field in tight uniforms (except maybe in the case of Manny) hitting balls with a bat and chasing them with gloves, instead of "alone-time", that's the secret to marital bliss?

So it's sociological, even instinctive, you say? And by thinking about it too much, not to mention talking about it too much, we ruin a good thing? Who would have thunk it.

Posted by: dubya19391 | April 29, 2009 2:46 PM

Just got around to reading this post: I totally agree with the premise that a ballgame is the best date going for a stressed-out couple.

With two little kids, my wife and I almost never get away from home, so when we do, it has to be quality time. And you can count of quality time at the ballpark. You don't have to care about the team, just go for the love of the game, the atmosphere, and a cold beer in your hand. It's a total no pressure atmosphere for couples to unwind. By the second inning, unfinished homework and other bad news is a distant memory, by the fifth, we might as well be walking on a tropical beach.

None of our other date venues, as worthwhile as they are, (Shakespeare Theatre, Kennedy Center, 9:30 Club for example) do as much for the marriage as baseball. Guess I just sold myself on a date. I'm off to look at the upcoming schedule.

Posted by: RWilliams4 | April 30, 2009 5:38 PM

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