Friday, June 30, 2006

Will This Marriage Last? – Religion's Influence On Marriage and Divorce

From Ash:

This is a don't kill the messenger post, but it's true: the family that prays together stays together. But for much different reasons than you might think.

In a previous post, I mentioned the positive impact of religious homogamy on marital stability: interfaith marriages tend to have a higher divorce rate and be less satisfying than religiously-homogamous marriages. (Unless one of the spouses' converts to the other's religion. At which point, their divorce rate is no different than one of with both having always been the same religion.) This is no little issue, since an estimated 40% of Catholics marry outside of their faith and even more Protestants than that will marry either Catholics or those from a Protestant denomination other than their own. But interfaith marriages are just the tip of the iceberg of religion's effect on marital stability.

Studies have repeatedly found that increased religiosity increases marital stability. Those without any religious affiliation have a higher divorce rate than those who are religious, no matter what religion it is we're talking about. Religious affiliation also seems to be a general indicator of increased marital satisfaction.

Early studies focused on comparing divorce rates and marital happiness as between the major U.S. religions – Protestants, Catholic, and Jewish. Subsequent studies then tackled various denominations within Protestantism. These findings, which are still regularly cited, are usually that Jewish and Catholics have the lowest divorce rates (switching back and forth between the two, depending on the study) then Protestants.

Protestant sects vary in their divorce rates. While there are a few studies pointing in the other direction, most studies have found that – are you ready for this? – conservative and fundamentalist Protestants actually have higher rates of divorce than those of other religions – Baptists the highest rate of divorce of all.

And 2001 study even found that born-again Christians have the same divorce rate as those who with no religious affiliation.

While these findings still hold true, more recent scholarship challenges the notion that affiliation with a particular faith is really significant. Instead, this subsequent work has found that it is the way in which a person practices his faith that it is the key.

The real issues are: their ability to discuss their religious faith; the degree to which the spouses participate in religious activities (e.g. church attendance, prayer); and their views on doctrine. It is these, even more than the sect membership, that really influences marital stability and marital satisfaction.

For example, in a study of Christian married couples, sociologists found that couples were more satisfied in their marriages if they both shared the same doctrinal views on religion, participated in religious activities, were able to communicate about religion, and if they didn't have to worry that about their spouse being saved. On the other hand, couples were less satisfied with their marriages, if they didn't agree about religious doctrine, they were worried about their spouses' salvation, and participated in fewer religious activities.

But, bar none, scholars have found that the most important aspect of religion in marriage is religious communication. The ability to discuss one's faith, share one's experiences, and be able to listen to those experiences of a partner.

The communication aspect of religion is so important that these scholars actually decided that Christian interfaith couples were less likely to divorce than those of the same-sect, because these couples were already more willing to have a respectful religious dialogue and expected to have differences that needed to be addressed, while couples from the same denomination may not be as able or willing to have this dialogue.

And sociologists have found that fundamentalist Protestants – those with the highest rate of divorce – have a higher level of church participation but also have lower communication-skills within the marriage.

This also makes earlier findings on religion and marital satisfaction worth a second thought: some studies found that religion increased marital satisfaction by increasing a sense of intimacy. Perhaps this heightened intimacy relates to better religious communication.

An article in this month's issue of Journal of Family Issues added an even-newer wrinkle to the marriage/religion issue. In it, they studied geographic areas that had higher concentrations of populations of a particular religion, to see if living within one's larger religious community had an impact on divorce? It turns out that geographic concentration doesn't effect Jewish marriages, but the answer is most likely "Yes" for Catholics, Mormons and some Protestants. A member living within a concentration of those sharing his faith is less likely to be divorced. But the authors aren't yet ready to say that the community is saving marriages: it could also be that divorced couples would leave these religious-localities when their marriages end.

On the other hand, Protestants living in communities with a higher proportion of members of their denomination have actually have a higher rate of divorce. Again, sociologists can't explain the cause for this factor, but they consider that these Protestants may be recent converts, without a strong religious framework, and/or they return to the significance of religious communication.

To me, I think that the communication aspect is something to really consider. Because this would potentially indicate that communication is more important than commonality, and you have to wonder if this sort of analysis was applied in other studies, if communication could overcome the difficulties posed by other heterogamous aspects of a marriage.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting comments.

I know a couple from the same faith getting a divorce. I know a couple from different religious faiths staying married.

I think the main factor in whether or not a marriage is going to last is RESPECT. Does the couple respect each other? And another very important factor, which I notice this blog already mentioned somewhere, is COMMUNICATION! Do they listen to each other?


9:40 AM  
Blogger Ashley Merryman said...

From what I've seen, you are absolutely correct: respect / communication seems to be more important than religious homogamy in marital stability.

8:29 AM  
Blogger fidelity said...

It seems that the comment about communication should be correct - it is part of communiction in general.

Accordingly, it seems likely then that those religions that have a high regard for the natural law and make it part of religious life will have members that communicate better -- we can all reason about things. However, the fideistic a religion is, the less people will communicate.

This might help explain the Jewish and Catholic lower divorce rates in part.

4:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A recent study by the Barna Research Group throws extreme doubt on these estimates. Barna released the results of their poll about divorce on 1999-DEC-21. 1 They had interviewed 3,854 adults from the 48 contiguous states. The margin of error is within 2 percentage points. The survey found:

11% of the adult population is currently divorced.
25% of adults have had at least one divorce during their lifetime.
Divorce rates among conservative Christians were significently higher than for other faith groups, and for Atheists and Agnostics.

You are wrong!

11:09 AM  
Blogger Ashley Merryman said...

I'm familiar with the Barna study, but since it is somewhat dated, instead of mentioning it, I cited a more recent study which analyzed that study and other more current scholarship (2002-2005).

Regardless, since I said that conservative Christians have a higher divorce rate than those without any religion, I don't understand how you say I have erred.

1:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is ok but only an assupmtion, i must say to be a real mariage takes communication and trust--
a strong mental capacity and just keeping it real.. i know of athiest who cohabitat6 well without the drama or control..

Me i believe in GOD.. But some religious ideologies are extreme..

10:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem with the 1999 Barna survey was that it probed everybody on whether they had been divorced regardless of whether they had ever been married in the first place. The seemingly lower divorce rate among atheists and agnostics was later proven to be an artifact of lower marriage rates among these groups (i.e. they were less likely to be divorced because they were less likely to ever marry in the first place).

Also, could one reason for the higher divorce rate among Protestant fundamentalists be due to the fact that they tend to get married at a younger age than Catholics or mainstream Protestants?

6:32 PM  
Blogger UBU said...

I'm a practicing Baptist and my husband is a converted Muslim of the last 5 years out of our 10 year marriage. Our marriage is just fine! I have witnessed couples of the same or similar faith divorce or become separated. I'll have to jump on board to say that RESPECT, COMMUNICATION & MATURITY play a major role in keeping a marriage cohesive.

10:27 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home