July 31 2008

Divorce rates, by religion

I recently listened to a group’s conversation regarding divorce rates among different religious groups. They were of the opinion that divorce was rampant among atheists due to their "godless and immoral" nature, and that it was much better among Christians. It occurred to me that this sort of ignorance may be more widespread than I previously realized, so I just wanted to throw a little hard data at the issue. Naturally, I doubt that evidence will help make much of a difference (does it ever?) but it doesn’t hurt to try.

First, why do I choose to link to this site above all others? After all, there’s plenty of census data available online. Here’s why:

  1. This is (as far as I can tell) the most recent data on the subject.
  2. It’s the most commonly-cited data on the subject on the internet right now.
  3. The Barna Group "conducts primary research, produces media resources pertaining to spiritual development, and facilitates the healthy spiritual growth of leaders, children, families and Christian ministries".

So what does the study find? That atheists and agnostics have divorce rates which are equal to slightly lower than those of various Christian denominations.

The author mentions the fact that atheists/agnostics have lower rates of marriage and higher rates of cohabitation, which may skew the results slightly. That’s probably true (I haven’t researched this claim, but it sounds likely) but we should also remember that this isn’t exactly an unbiased source. Quite frankly, I’m surprised that atheists came off as well as they did.

This study is by no means definitive proof on the subject, one way or the other. But it’s certainly an indicator of how things really are. Based on this data, I would speculate that religion isn’t as large of an element in divorce rates as most people think, and that the increases are the result of changes in societal opinions. I’m not currently making a judgement on whether this is good or bad, mind you. Maybe I will in a future post.

One more thing to point out: this study states that the divorce rate is 33%, and that’s pretty consistent to some other studies I’ve perused on the subject. The common myth is that 50% of all marriages end in divorce, which clearly is not true.