Religious Practice is Relevant to Divorce Rate

It’s common to hear people say that Christians have the same divorce rate as non-Christians. In fact, most people believe this is an established fact. When digging deeper, however, this turns out to be false, at least when we’re talking about practicing Christians. Religious practice, not religious affiliation, makes the crucial difference.

W. Bradford Wilcox, a leading sociologist at the University of Virginia and director of the National Marriage Project, conducted his own analysis which concludes there is a big difference in the divorce rates between those who are committed to religious practice and those who self-identify with a particular faith.

To explain it further, people who refer to themselves as Catholics are 5 percent less likely to divorce, but active Catholics are 31 percent less likely to divorce than those with no religious affiliation. Among Protestant Christians, those who are nominal Protestants are 20 percent more likely to divorce than nonreligious people. Conservative Protestants are 10 percent less likely to divorce, and Conservative active Protestants are 35 percent less likely to divorce than people in the general population. The difference was a much more stark difference among Jewish individuals. Nominal Jewish people were 53 percent more likely to become divorced, and active Jewish people were 97 percent less likely to divorce than the non-religious. Wilcox controlled for socio-economic factors.

So, contrary to what you have heard, religious commitment and practice within a traditional religious faith does correlate with stronger and longer marriages. Reasons for these church-goers’ lower divorce rates may include having a community of support to help churchgoers live out the churches’ teachings. There were important correlations of note:

“Whether young or old, male or female, low-income or not, those who said they were more religious reported higher levels of commitment to their partners, higher levels of marital satisfaction, less thinking and talking about divorce, and lower levels of negative interaction.  These patterns held true when controlling for such important variables as income, education, and age at first marriage,” reported Professor Scott Stanley, sociologist from the University of Denver. (From FactChecker: Divorce Rate Among Christians)

Jennifer Roback Morse writes in the National Review Online that the false assumptions that Christians divorce at the same rate as others is harmful because 1.) It contributes to a general sense that divorce is inevitable. 2.) It demoralizes people on a personal and policy level. 3.) It makes Christians appear to be hypocrites. 4.) People don’t know that religious practice has a stabilizing effect on marriages.

However, in every culture and religion, I think we can agree that divorce more common than we would hope.

Do you believe your belief system and/or religious practice affects your marital strength?

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Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at and in all e-book formats at Pick up your copy today!

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13 responses to “Religious Practice is Relevant to Divorce Rate

  1. So interesting! It’s great to hear some evidence that religious practice and commitment do have a positive effect on marriages. That is our experience, for sure. Much of how we humans view something is dependent upon the people we surround ourselves with. In our marriage, we are active in our church and with a group of fellow believers – this helps us to hold marriage in high regard and work through problems rather than holding the common societal view that if we’re not happy we should look elsewhere. I just started to read the book “Sacred Marriage”, and right away it suggests that marriage is not designed by God to make us happy, but rather to make us holy. Taking this view can do nothing but strengthen marriages – and unfortunately it’s counter-cultural!

    • Thanks for sharing your personal experience, Stephanie. Being counter-cultural is a good thing, and it looks like you are on the right track. Hope it brings you much success in your marriage. Cheers!

  2. I enjoy reading your blog because you generally do a very good job of presenting research and statistics. However, in this instance, I believe that you have misstated the results. You explained the language for Catholics and Protestants correctly, however, you have misstated the findings for Jews. It is not 53 TIMES more likely, it is 53% more likely. This is why:
    Let’s say the rate in the general population is 1 divorce per year out of 100 marriages (I’m making this up).
    53% more likely would mean that Jews would then have a rate of 1.53 out of 100.
    But 53 TIMES more likely means that Jews would then have a rate of 53 out of 100.

    It may seem like a small semantic thing, but it makes a huge difference in interpretation.

  3. Thanks for the great post. I am grateful for the faith that my wife and I share and am always pleased when science and humans verify what Jesus and His prophets have taught: that marriage is sacred and when combined with faith and works can lift our relationship to heavenly heights. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Thank you – this is encouraging. I have sometimes wondered about the validity of the “fact” that Christians and Jews divorce at the same rate as the general population.

    • You’re welcome. I have also wondered if this could be true since both faith traditions highly value lifelong marriage. Glad to see there is more to the story.

  5. Such an interesting post! Thanks so much for sharing this information, I’ve never heard it before! Does this research include marriages where one spouse is active and the other is not?

    • No, I didn’t read anything about that. I believe it measured religious participation of both. Thanks for your input.

  6. Pingback: Uniquely Catholic Fears and the Dreaded Religious Calling : IgnitumToday

  7. Pingback: Catholic Fears of the Dreaded Religious Calling | Crisis Magazine

  8. Pingback: Does Being a Christian Hurt Your Marriage? | Kevin A. ThompsonKevin A. Thompson

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