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Divorce and Conservative Evangelicals: Don’t do as I do; Do as I say

January 19, 2014

A new study is about to be published that examines divorce rates in individual counties and states in the U.S. in the year 2000. Demographers Jennifer Glass from the University of Texas at Austin (Department of Sociology and Population Research Center) and Philip Levchak went over the entire map of the United States, county by county, to check out the divorce rate per every 1000 people. A preliminary summary and examination of the results can be seen in this excellent and detailed press release from the Council on Contemporary FamiliesRed States, Blue States, and Divorce: Understanding the Impact of Conservative Protestantism on Regional Variation in Divorce Rates.

Photo of men's and women's plain wedding rings

Photo courtesy of Flickr user MyTudut, used under License CC BY-NC SA 2.0 –

What these researchers found was that the divorce rate appears to be higher in states that are more religiously conservative (e.g., the states with the second and third highest divorce rates, Alabama and Arkansas) and lower in more liberal states (e.g., New Jersey and Massachussetts). To be fair (and the researchers also go into this), there are undoubtedly other factors than religion. For example, Arkansas and Alabama’s divorce rate could also be related to the higher poverty rate in those states than the poverty rate in New Jersey and Massachusetts.

Another possible explanation (again also examined by these researchers) is a cultural encouragement of earlier marriage. Those who marry earlier have higher divorce rates than those who marry later. So religious affiliation doesn’t have to be the whole story (although it is true that conservative religious culture does, in general, encourage younger marriage).

But you know what? Even if there are other factors than just religious affiliation, according to conservative, evangelicals/fundamentalists’ own preaching and beliefs–it doesn’t matter.

And why not? Well, they are always preaching  that you should stay married for good (except that so many of them don’t), and on top of that, they always preach that if you are “right with God” and “put God first” in your marriage, you can stick it out and make a successful marriage. This either means that a large percentage of their own people don’t even follow their own loudly proclaimed teaching about marriage–or it does not work when they try to do it.

If you are constantly yelling at other people, telling them that if they live the way you tell them to, they’ll live successfully–and you can’t even do it yourself–why, then, we know just how seriously to take your yelling, don’t we?

So no, it doesn’t matter one whit if there are all those other factors. Because these people preach that their godly marriage rules can overcome all those factors and keep us married. But they are less successful at it than all of us heathens. So…no.

Watch for the full study to be published in the American Journal of Sociology.

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