Study: Conservative Protestants’ divorce rates spread to their red state neighbors
- Jan 22, 2014 by Sarah Pulliam Bailey
- c. 2014 Religion News Service
(RNS) Conservative Protestants in red states aren’t the only ones seeing high divorce rates — so are their neighbors, according to a new study.
Researchers found that simply living in an area with a large concentration of conservative Protestants increases the chances of divorce, even for those who are not themselves conservative Protestants.
According to researchers who took into account race, income and other factors, 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 to find 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 co-author Jennifer Glass a sociology professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “It appears that the cessation of education, early marriage and early parenthood, you’re set up for relationship conflict, financial stress and dissolution.”
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.
… In his own research, Stokes found that conservative Protestants who attend church regularly are significantly less likely to have gotten divorced than nonreligious peers.
“The pattern that pops out in this data is that when you look at those who attend church weekly, their divorce rates are the same as other high-attending Christians,” Stokes said. “Nominal Christians are probably getting the community norms but aren’t in a social structure to live the norms out.”
- Posted: 01/21/2014 6:20 pm EST
It may seem counterintuitive, but divorce rates are higher in religiously conservative “red” states than “blue” states, despite a Bible-based culture that discourages divorce.
In a new study titled “Red States, Blue States, and Divorce: Understanding the Impact of Conservative Protestantism on Regional Variation in Divorce Rates,” which will be published later this month in the American Journal of Sociology, demographer and University of Texas at Austin professor Jennifer Glass set out to discover why divorce rates would be higher in religious states like Arkansas and Alabama — which boast the second and third highest divorce rates, respectively — but lower in more liberal states like New Jersey and Massachusetts.
It was previously thought that socioeconomic hardships in the South were largely to blame for high divorce rates, however Glass and her fellow researchers concluded that the conservative religious culture is in fact a major contributing factor thanks to “the social institutions they create” that “decrease marital stability.”
Specifically, putting pressure on young people to marry sooner, frowning upon cohabitation before marriage, teaching abstinence-only sex education and making access to resources like emergency contraception more difficult all result in earlier childbearing ages and less-solid marriages from the get-go, Glass writes in the paper.
“It’s surprising,” W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project, told The Los Angeles Times. “In some contexts in America today, religion is a buffer against divorce. But in the conservative Protestant context, this paper is showing us that it’s not.”
Glass and her colleagues also concluded that the religious culture of the area permeated into the divorce rates of even the non-religious people who lived there.
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