As strange as it may seem, a new study indicates that the influence of evangelical Protestant Christianity leads to higher divorce rates.
Sociologists Jennifer Glass and Philip Levchak found that the higher the concentration of evangelical Protestants in a U.S. county, the higher the divorce rate was likely to be. Early marriage is associated with low income and lack of education, but there was a higher divorce rate even among couples of the same income level and educational level in the counties with higher percentages of evangelicals. The divorce rate among evangelical Protestants themselves is higher in such counties.
They said the reason is the evangelical Protestant culture promotes early marriage, and people who get married in their teens are more likely to be divorced than those who wait until they are in their twenties. This fits my experience. When I was single and living in western Maryland, a religiously conservative area, in the 1960s, it seemed as if virtually every waitress with whom I struck up a conversation had gotten married while in high school, gotten divorce and was working to support herself and a child.
The connecting link between religion and d was evangelical Protestant culture rather than evangelical Protestant faith. Glass and Lovchak found that among couples who did marry young, the ones who went to church regularly had, on average, more lasting marriages than those who didn’t. But statistically, early marriage did more to encourage divorce than regular church-going did to inhibit it.
Why would early marriage be associated with divorce? Poverty puts a strain on marriage. Young women who drop out of high school to get married have a harder time earning an income than those who postpone marriage until graduation. This puts the burden of being a family breadwinner on the young man, whose prospects also may be poor.
Evangelical Protestant churches tend to oppose contraception, which would lead to unwanted pregnancies and shotgun marriages. They tend to discourage sex education and promote sexual abstinence, which means newlyweds have no sexual experience and little knowledge.
But for all that, there is something worse than a culture of early marriage and early divorce, and that is the underclass culture where people never go to church and have children without thinking of marriage at all. Early marriage and early divorce represent a step up from having sex and begetting children with multiple partners and none of the legal responsibilities that go with marriage. In such circumstances, a strict religion such as evangelical Protestantism is a solution, not the problem.