Does Evangelical influence lead to more divorce?

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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.


I couldn’t find the article by Glass and Levchak on-line, but the following give the gist of it.

Is Conservative Christianity Bad for Marriage? by Michelle Goldberg for The Nation.

Too many evangelicals could be bad for your marriage by Tobin Grant of Religious News Service.

Findings on Red and Blue Divorce Are Not Exactly Black and White by Charles E. Stokes of the Institute for Family Studies

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3 Responses to “Does Evangelical influence lead to more divorce?”

  1. trueandreasonable Says:

    “Researchers considered why states with larger proportions of religious conservatives have higher divorce rates than states with lower proportions of religious conservatives. The study compared “conservative Protestants” — those who believe the Bible is without error — with other “mainline Christian” denominations (including Catholics), other faiths and those who aren’t affiliated with a religion.”

    Catholics hold strict views about marriage, premarital sex, birth control etc. It seems to be a flaw in the study or at least a flaw in the conclusions drawn from the study. If they broke out the Catholics would the divorce rate be about the same as other protestants and others?

    I really don’t know but I would like to know. But I would like to.


    • philebersole Says:

      As to Catholics, my impression is that they tend not to marry as young as fundamental Protestants. There is a stereotype of the aging Irish bachelor living with his mother. But if this impression is true, I don’t have an explanation for why it would be.

      Then, too, the map indicates that Mormon areas have low divorce rates. What is it about Mormon culture that differentiates it from evangelical Protestant culture? I don’t know. I’d be interested in what others think.


  2. Holden Says:

    Personally, money was the #1 stressor in my marriage when I was a newly wed. And for many of those married young, who quickly get busy finding jobs and having kids instead of attending college or developing a well paying career, that makes for a lifetime of financial struggle.

    Another anecdotal viewpoint of mine, the strict interpretation of the bible leads to chauvinism in some. Women are pretty firmly put in their place in the bible (for example in 1st Corinthians).

    Surely that doesn’t make for many a happy wives in modern day America!


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