College Student Attitudes toward Interreligious Marriage

Article excerpt

One hundred-five never married undergraduate university students completed an anonymous 18-item questionnaire designed to assess their attitudes toward interreligious marriage. Among other findings, the data revealed only one in five respondents required that their future spouse be of the same religion; females were more likely than males to have this requirement, and females felt more pressure than males from their parents to marry a person of the same religious faith. Baptists were particularly in favor of homogamous religious marriage. Implications for university faculty and students are suggested.


Religious homogamy, the tendency to select someone with similar religious values, is part of the public image of Presidents. Frequently, we see news footage of the President and first lady attending church in Washington, D.C.-the same church. Never do we see video of husband and wife attending separate churches. Eleven studies (Kalmijn, 1991) have documented the existence of religious endogamy (marriage within one's own religious group) in the United States.

Religion, in general, continues to be a factor in the lives of most college students. More than 80 percent (82.6) of all first year college students in the United States report that they have attended a religious service in the last year. Only 15 percent report no current religious preference (American Council on Education and University of California, 2000). This study examined data from a sample of undergraduate students in regard to their attitude toward interreligious marriage. We were particularly interested in assessing the degree to which religious homogamy is operative among today's college students.


The data consisted of 105 never married undergraduates enrolled in courtship and marriage courses at a large southeastern university who voluntarily completed an anonymous 18-item questionnaire designed to assess their attitudes toward interreligiousmarriage. Among the respondents, 61% were women; 39% were men. The median age was 19 with a range of 18-53. Respondents were predominately white (88%) with 12% reporting that they were non-white. The largest religious identifications were Baptist (39%), Catholic(19%), and Methodist (14%).


Analysis of the data revealed several significant findings.

1. Limited requirement for marital religious homogamy. Only one in five (22%) respondents agreed that, "I will only marry someone of the same religious background." Kalmijn (1991) noted an increased incidence of interreligious marriage since the 1920s and attributed the increase to the decline in salience of religious boundaries. Another explanation for the demise of religious endogamy (people of the same religion married to each other) includes an increased opportunity for college students to meet persons from a wide range of religious backgrounds. Wilson (1966) also emphasized that increased secularization has resulted in religious practices and beliefs becoming less important in the governing of people's lives. While a willingness to cross religious lines to marry is increasing, a similar willingness to cross racial lines to marry is not occurring (Qian, 1999).

2. Females' stronger preference for marital religious homogamy. Females were significantly (p < .05) more likely than males (27% versus. 15%) to agree that they would only marry someone of the same religion. Previous research (Knox et al. 1997) has found that women, when compared to men, evidence a stronger interest in their potential mates having similar characteristics- being homogamous.

3. Parents perceived as being more disapproving of female's interreligious marriage. Females were significantly (p < .05) more likely than males (20% versus. 15%) to perceive that their parents would disapprove if they were to date someone of a different religious faith. …


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