The Couple That Prays Together: Race and Ethnicity, Religion, and Relationship Quality among Working-Age Adults

By Ellison, Christopher G.; Burdette, Amy M. et al. | Journal of Marriage and Family, August 2010 | Go to article overview

The Couple That Prays Together: Race and Ethnicity, Religion, and Relationship Quality among Working-Age Adults


Ellison, Christopher G., Burdette, Amy M., Wilcox, W. Bradford, Journal of Marriage and Family


A substantial body of research has shown that relationship quality tends to be (a) lower among racial and ethnic minorities and (b) higher among more religious persons and among couples in which partners share common religious affiliations, practices, and beliefs. However, few studies have examined the interplay of race or ethnicity and religion in shaping relationship quality. Our study addresses this gap in the literature using data from the National Survey of Religion and Family Life (NSRFL), a 2006 telephone survey of 2,400 working-age adults (ages 18 - 59), which contains oversamples of African Americans and Latinos. Results underscore the complex nature of the effects of race and ethnicity, as well as religious variables. In particular, we found that couples' in-home family devotional activities and shared religious beliefs are positively linked with reports of relationship quality.

Key Words: African Americans, Hispanics, Latinos, marriage, religion.

During the past half century, the United States has witnessed dramatic changes in the nature, quality, and stability of intimate relationships - from increases in divorce, nonmarital childbearing, and cohabitation to delays in the age of first marriage. Most notably, marriage has become increasingly fragile over the same period (Cherlin, 2004). Although these changes have influenced all sectors of U.S. society, they have been particularly consequential for racial and ethnic minorities, especially African Americans (Landale & Oropesa, 2007; Lichter, McLaughlin, Kephart, & Landry, 1992; Tucker & Mitchell-Kernan, 1995). For instance, according to recent Census estimates, fewer than half of Blacks (34% of men, 28% of women) and Hispanics (43% of men, 46% of women) are now married and living with their spouse; by contrast, more than half of all non-Hispanic White adults (58% of men, 54% of women) are married and living with their spouse (Kreider & Simmons, 2003). Studies have also shown that African Americans who do marry experience lower relationship quality and greater risk of marital disruption (i.e., divorce or separation) than do non-Hispanic Whites (Broman, 2005; Phillips & Sweeney, 2006). Finally, African Americans and especially Hispanics are more likely to have children born into cohabiting unions than are non-Hispanic Whites, and such cohabiting relationships are more likely to be characterized by instability and lower relationship quality than are marital relationships (Kennedy & Bumpass, 2008; Landale & Oropesa, 2007).

Although scholarly attention has increasingly been directed toward the causes and correlates of relationship quality among Blacks and Hispanics (Broman, 2005; McLoyd, Cauce, Takeuchi, & Wilson, 2000), as well as differences in relationship quality by race and ethnicity (Blackman, Clayton, Glenn, Malone-Colon, & Roberts 2005), there has been surprisingly little attention to the role that religion may play in influencing the quality of marriages and intimate relationships for Blacks and Hispanics, or in accounting for racial and ethnic differences in relationship quality. This is surprising given that, in recent years, family researchers have refocused attention on the role of religious factors in shaping relationship quality among married and cohabiting couples. Although some studies have reported little or no association between religion and relationship quality (Booth, Johnson, Branaman, & Sica, 1995), most studies have shown salutary or protective effects of religious involvement on relationship quality (Call & Heaton, 1997; Myers, 2006; Wolfinger & Wilcox, 2008). This oversight is also surprising because a wealth of evidence reveals that African Americans tend to be more religious, by virtually any conventional indicator, than are non-Hispanic Whites from otherwise similar backgrounds (Taylor, Chatters, & Levin, 2004). Although one recent study focused on religion and relationship quality among African Americans and nonHispanic Whites (Furdyna, Tucker, & James, 2008), we are aware of no published work that explores this topic among Mexican Americans or other Latino groups, a striking gap in the literature in light of the rapid growth of the Hispanic population in the United States (Suro, 2005), as well as the distinctive religious cultures of Latinos (Espinosa, Elizondo, & Miranda, 2003).

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