Divorce Rate High in Conservative Areas

The Christian Century, February 19, 2014 | Go to article overview

Divorce Rate High in Conservative Areas


Conservative Protestants residing in red states have high divorce rates, surveys have shown, but a newly published study finds that not-so-religious couples in their communities are splitting up nearly as fast.

According to researchers who took into account race, income and other factors, the marriage and fertility trends that are common among conservative Protestants--younger marriage, more kids, less higher education--affect all people in areas most populated by conservative Protestants, no matter their personal religious affiliation.

"Conservative Protestant community norms and the institutions they create seem to increase divorce risk," researchers say in the study. For example, those who are struggling in their marriage may feel discouraged about finding help in communities where marriage is idealized or marital failure is viewed as shameful, the researchers suggest.

"Generally, religion, religious belief and religious activities are thought to strengthen marriages," said lead author Jennifer Glass, the Barbara Bush Professor of Liberal Arts at the University of Texas at Austin. But it appears that with the cessation of education combined with early marriage and early parenthood, "you're set up for relationship conflict, financial stress and dissolution," she said.

The study, titled "Red States, Blue States, and Divorce: Understanding the Impact of Conservative Protestantism on Regional Variation in Divorce Rates" in the American Journal of Sociology, analyzed county divorce statistics and information from a study of religious congregations, divorce statistics, information on the religious breakdown of local areas and a national survey.

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 mainline Protestants, Catholics, other faiths and those who aren't affiliated with a religion.

County by county, for every I percent increase in the share of conservative Protestants compared with mainline Protestants, the divorce rate increased 0. …

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