In church, Christians, especially evangelical Christians, are often told that they get divorced as much as, if not more often than, non-Christians. In the sociological research literature, however, the message is different. Religion is linked to fewer divorces.
Well, which is it? Both sources can’t be right. In answering this question in 2006, I ended up writing a protracted blog series on divorce rates in America, which spawned a published articleand a book.
Since then I have gotten about nine years older and the world has changed in various ways. We got our first African-American president and gas prices went back to below $3 a gallon. Americansmarry less often and more children are raised without both parents in the home. And the General Social Survey (GSS) collected several more waves of data. So let’s revisit the relationship between religion and divorce rates and see where they are at now.
Using data from the GSS, I took all the respondents who participated in the 2010, 2012, and 2014 surveys (dropping several oversamples). Among them, I selected the respondents who had ever been married, and calculated how many had ever been divorced (or were currently separated). The answer for the whole sample was 45 percent—quite close to the “half of all marriages end in divorce” statistic that is widely passed along.
Then I separated the respondents into seven religious groups, using the RELTRAD classification system developed by Steensland et al. 2000. It divides GSS respondents into seven broad religious affiliations based on the type of religious group they are involved with (e.g., which religious denomination). As shown in Figure 1, there are substantial differences in divorce rates by self-reported religious affiliation. The highest rates are among attendees of historically black Protestant churches and people who have no religious affiliation (i.e., the “nones”). The lowest rates were among Jews, Catholics, and mainline Protestants. In the middle are evangelical Christians and members of other religions like Islam, Buddhism, and Scientology.