A little bit of religion won’t do

It’s the regular church-goers that have a better chance at marriage
Figure 1

Figure 1 – click to enlarge

The following comes from a July 8 story on The Federalist website.

It’s a well-worn lament heard from many American pulpits: there is just as much divorce inside the church as there is outside. But if pastors and their flocks are embarrassed by divorce equality, then recent findings published in American Journal of Sociology are likely to give them an even nastier shock: conservative religious beliefs are not only failing to uphold the marriages of religious conservatives, they are actually destroying their neighbors’ marriages too.

The recent study “Red States, Blue States, and Divorce” makes a straightforward claim: “Conservative religious beliefs and the social institutions they create, on balance, decrease marital stability through the promotion of practices that increase divorce risk in the contemporary United States.” For example, by discouraging premarital sex and encouraging early marriage, conservative religious institutions unwittingly contribute to high divorce rates, the authors argue. Their analysis finds that “communities with large concentrations of conservative Protestants actually produce higher divorce rates than others.”

Kayla and Adam are a young married couple interviewed as part of The Love and Marriage in Middle America Project, a four-year qualitative research inquiry into the relationship and family formation of 75 working class young adults. At first blush, they seem like poster children for the “Red States, Blue States” research. They pushed up their wedding date by a year because Kayla’s Baptist parents disapproved of their cohabitation, and because their pastor refused to marry them unless they stopped cohabiting. Shortly after their wedding, Kayla discovered Adam was abusing his prescription medication. A few years later, he got arrested for overdosing on heroin. Then, Kayla found a love note from Adam to another woman. And just like that, it was over.

Now Kayla wonders if she could have avoided divorce by cohabiting and delaying marriage—exactly what her Baptist parents and pastor advised her against.

Kayla and Adam appear to illustrate what writer Michelle Goldberg concluded about the “Red States, Blue States” research: “conservative family values don’t work to conserve actual families.”

The story doesn’t end there

It’s tempting to leave the story with Goldberg’s ironic twist, but findings from four years’ worth of interviews with couples like Kayla and Adam, combined with our recent analysis of some of the best survey data available on the lives of young Americans, paints a more complex story of religion, marriage, and divorce in young America. That story has implications for strengthening marriage in working-class communities, where research shows divorce and single parenthood is most common.

Here’s the key nuance: while religious affiliation makes no difference when it comes to divorce, religious attendance does. The “Red States, Blue States” research fails to make this distinction.

The strongest evidence of the marriage-stabilizing power of religious participation comes from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), a federally funded, nationally representative sample of young adults. Our recent analyses of Add Health reveal that attending church regularly during young adulthood appears to significantly decrease the risk of divorce, even for those who marry relatively young.

Of the 2,800 young adults represented in Figure 1, all married early by American standards, from ages 18 to 26. Those who divorced (about 20 percent of this sample) had relatively short marriages. According to the “Red States, Blue States” research, it is precisely among this divorced group that you would expect to find lots of conservative Christians. But, as Figure 1 shows, the two groups likely to have the most conservative family values (high-attending conservative Protestants and high-attending Catholics) are also least likely to have divorced.

In multivariate analyses, high-attending conservative Protestant young adults have 34 percent lower odds of divorcing than do the non-religious, and high-attending Catholic young adults have 76 percent lower odds of divorcing than do the nonreligious. (Other religiously conservative groups, such as Latter Day Saints or Muslims, may exhibit similar “divorce-proofing” patterns, but the sample size is too small to distinguish these groups.)

It appears, then, that conservative family values do “work,” but only when those values are regularly reinforced and supported by integration into a local religious community.

To read the entire story, click here.



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  1. SandraD says:

    A Man and A Woman, cradle Catholics, “Sacramentally” married at 18 and 21 in 1968…….honored their vows, in good times and bad, in sickness and in health……..until death due us part.

    • SandraD says:

      And, most importantly, honored God by attending Mass every Sunday and Holy Day….receiving Jesus in the Eucharist…….that’s what sustains a marriage.

  2. How many Catholics know their faith as requested by our most recent 3 Popes?

  3. Tom Byrne says:

    “Values only work when reinforced or supported” in on a par with “stoves only cook when you light them” or “refrigerators only cool food when you put it inside”. If values are not practiced, what point is there is saying someone “has” the values? Affiliation without practice is meaningless on the face of it, so why didn’t the researchers study religious practice in the first place? This veteran chemistry teacher remains appalled at the slop that too often passes for research in the social sciences.

  4. Linda Maria says:

    “The Love and Marriage in Middle America Project,” is a sham– typical of lots of problematical, poorly-designed, poorly-handled, false social sciences “research”–by very bad “social scientists,” in America! No doubt, these BAD, so-called “professionals,” wasted research money, on a totally useless endeavor!!. Plus, I bet they did not understand what they were doing! No doubt, they had NO MORAL NOR RELIGIOUS BACKGROUND, themselves, to begin with, to try to understand their project, and the people they were studying!! How stupid!! Everyone knows, by common sense, that a religion means nothing, unless truly practiced!! And Kayla and Adam, were NOT “practicing Baptists,” by any stretch of the imagination! NOT CHRISTIAN, at all!! They would have been LAUGHED AT, by a good Baptist church youth group!! Baptist young people are very famous, for studying the Bible, memorizing Biblical quotations, pledging virginity until marriage, going regularly to church, being involved in numerous church projects, trying to bring friends, neighbors, and acquaintances to church, evangelizing everyone– and seeking to be ROLE MODEL, “Billy Graham”-type Christians!! Kayla and Adam were NOT BAPTISTS, and NOT CHRISTIANS, at all!!

  5. Beware. In the 1960’s a book was published about the manipulation of “studies”. I believe the title was “How To Lie With Statistics”. We all should know that by now, and one great example is Global Warning (now known as Climate Change because cooling is actually taking place). Clever people with an agenda tend to pick and choose the statistics they need to create their own evidence for what they believe is reality and / or which reality will make them money. Fast buck artists love statistical “evidence”.

    • Your Fellow Catholic says:

      No need to look at statistics for evidence of climate change. All you need to do is look at the rapid disappearance of ice from Mount Kilimanjaro, Greenland, and Antarctica. Or the gigantic aglal blooms. Or the accumulation of Carbon dioxide. Or…

      • Your Fellow Catholic says:

        blah blah blah blah …. You might remember this discussion in a hundred, years, or you will have no care because you will be all dead already.

  6. mike magee says:

    Harry Truman said Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics. Both sides employ people who can manipulate almost any data to say almost anything. Makes my head spin at times.

  7. John Feeney says:

    The ice in Greenland also disappeared hundreds of years ago and then came back. Look it up.

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