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7 Ways to Divorce-Proof Your Marriage (Statistically Speaking)

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While these certainly aren't guaranteed (please don’t cite us in your divorce petition), here are some things science says will make you less likely to get divorced.

Cake image via Shutterstock

1. Quit Smoking

A study published in 2010 (PDF here) found that if only one partner smoked, it caused more marital problems than differing religions, different backgrounds, even different plans for having children.

Couples are an astonishing 76-95% more likely to get divorced if only one of them smokes. The amount increases when the wife is the partner with the habit. While couples who both smoke have it a bit better, a 1998 study found they are still 53% more likely than non-smoking couples to end their marriage.

2. Take Up Optometry

Analysis of census data from 2000 found some professions seem to be almost divorce-proof. As one might expect, religious workers and clergy had some of the lowest divorce rates, but there were some slightly less obvious professions in the bottom ten. These included optometrists, shuttle car drivers and transit police, with optometrists clocking in with a ridiculously low 4% chance of getting divorced. Other low risk professions included farming and nuclear engineers.

If you think your job as a massage therapist, animal trainer, or mathematician puts you in the clear, think again. You’re in the top ten most-likely-to-get-divorced jobs.

3. Share Chores

Proponents of traditional gender roles in marriage often point to the fact that divorce rates increased as more women went into the workforce. But a study from the London School of Economics recently found that the stress on a marriage due to the wife working is completely offset when husbands contribute more to housework, childcare, and shopping. In turn, those couples are more likely to stay together.

The study found that in households split along traditional gender lines, with the wife staying home and the husband contributing nothing to the housework, the divorce rate was slightly higher than when both partners worked and contributed roughly equally to the housework. When both had jobs and the husband made a “minimal contribution” to the housework, the risk of divorce almost doubled.

4. Live in a Blue State

You might expect divorce rates to be highest in states with more liberal residents, but you’d be wrong. Even though it was the solidly blue California that pioneered “no-fault” divorce in 1969, a 2009 census report revealed that residents of more conservative states are more likely to get divorced than their more liberal counterparts.

The Census Bureau explained some of the possible reasons behind the trend. One, in states in the South and West of America, residents tend to marry younger than those in the Northeast, which in turn more often leads to eventual marital discord. Two, these states also have a larger population of immigrants, and the loss of a supportive familial and social network can put a strain on many immigrant marriages, resulting in higher divorce rates.

5. Hang Out With People Who Aren’t Divorced

But surely living in a red state isn’t causing people to get divorced. It’s obviously those other factors that contribute to the larger numbers, right?

That’s true, but even just knowing people who are getting divorced makes you more likely to do so yourself. Studies on “social contagion” have shown that if you have a divorced sibling, you are 22% more likely to get divorced. But it isn’t just family members who affect us; divorces between friends and even friends of friends up your chances of ending your own marriage. Therefore living in a state with higher divorce rates, even if you waited until you were older to marry, still affects your chances of staying together.

6. Marry Someone You Met at School

Last year, the dating site eHarmony conducted the largest study ever into whether couples who met in certain places were more or less likely to get divorced. They looked at the expected number of divorces for couples who met at places like church, school, work, bars, and dating sites, and compared them to how many actual divorces occurred. While in most cases the number of actual divorces was almost exactly what was expected, the biggest difference was couples who met at school. According to this study at least, if you met your spouse in high school, college, or grad school, you are 41% less likely to get divorced than the statistics predict. The other major difference was couples who met in bars, who were 24% more likely to get divorced than expected.

7. Have Sons

A study of over 3 million couples found that having even one daughter increases a couple’s chances of divorce, while have sons lessens them. A first born daughter makes you 5% more likely to split up, while three girls increase it by 10%. A 2007 report stated that in any given year, 52,000 first born daughters under 12 years of age would still have an in-residence father if they had been born boys.

There are a variety of theories on this. One is that men are more invested in raising sons and are therefore more likely to stick around. Alternatively, women may be more willing to leave bad marriages if they have daughters, to avoid modeling them as acceptable for their girls. This second theory perhaps makes more sense since an estimated 73% of divorces are initiated by the wife.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
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How Experts Say We Should Stop a 'Zombie' Infection: Kill It With Fire
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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Scientists are known for being pretty cautious people. But sometimes, even the most careful of us need to burn some things to the ground. Immunologists have proposed a plan to burn large swaths of parkland in an attempt to wipe out disease, as The New York Times reports. They described the problem in the journal Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a gruesome infection that’s been destroying deer and elk herds across North America. Like bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, better known as mad cow disease) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, CWD is caused by damaged, contagious little proteins called prions. Although it's been half a century since CWD was first discovered, scientists are still scratching their heads about how it works, how it spreads, and if, like BSE, it could someday infect humans.

Paper co-author Mark Zabel, of the Prion Research Center at Colorado State University, says animals with CWD fade away slowly at first, losing weight and starting to act kind of spacey. But "they’re not hard to pick out at the end stage," he told The New York Times. "They have a vacant stare, they have a stumbling gait, their heads are drooping, their ears are down, you can see thick saliva dripping from their mouths. It’s like a true zombie disease."

CWD has already been spotted in 24 U.S. states. Some herds are already 50 percent infected, and that number is only growing.

Prion illnesses often travel from one infected individual to another, but CWD’s expansion was so rapid that scientists began to suspect it had more than one way of finding new animals to attack.

Sure enough, it did. As it turns out, the CWD prion doesn’t go down with its host-animal ship. Infected animals shed the prion in their urine, feces, and drool. Long after the sick deer has died, others can still contract CWD from the leaves they eat and the grass in which they stand.

As if that’s not bad enough, CWD has another trick up its sleeve: spontaneous generation. That is, it doesn’t take much damage to twist a healthy prion into a zombifying pathogen. The illness just pops up.

There are some treatments, including immersing infected tissue in an ozone bath. But that won't help when the problem is literally smeared across the landscape. "You cannot treat half of the continental United States with ozone," Zabel said.

And so, to combat this many-pronged assault on our wildlife, Zabel and his colleagues are getting aggressive. They recommend a controlled burn of infected areas of national parks in Colorado and Arkansas—a pilot study to determine if fire will be enough.

"If you eliminate the plants that have prions on the surface, that would be a huge step forward," he said. "I really don’t think it’s that crazy."

[h/t The New York Times]

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