Religion Leads to More Divorce, Study Finds

| by Allison Geller

A new study found that divorce rates are significantly higher in conservative states, and lower in liberal ones—and that religion is the main factor of the difference.

“Red States, Blue States, and Divorce: Understanding Regional Variation in Divorce Rates,” due for publication in the American Journal of Sociology, found that that conservative Alabama and Arkansas have close to the highest divorce rates (13 per 1000 people per year), while more liberal New Jersey and Massachusetts have some of the lowest (6 or 7 per 1000 people per year). Why the difference?

“Restricting sexual activity to marriage and encouraging large families seem to make young people start families earlier in life, even though that may not be best for the long-term survival of those marriages,” says Jennifer Glass, a demographer from the University of Texas and one of the study’s authors.

Glass and Phillip Levchak, from the University of Iowa, examined divorce rates and conservatism county by county throughout the United States. They found that while poverty in rural and Southern counties does contribute to higher divorce rates, it didn’t completely explain them.

The same goes for the argument that those counties have higher rates of marriage, since religious couples are much less likely to live together before they decide to marry, and thus the rate of marriages is higher than in more liberal counties. Glass and Levchak found no connection between cohabitating before marriage and lower divorce rates.

The authors also found that even young people who aren’t religious are influenced by the culture around them. The culture of many conservative counties reinforces the expectation that young people should get married and have kids before establishing their careers, with little support from the community.

That’s further reinforced by abstinence-only education, restricted access to birth control and abortion, and the assumption that marriage should be the result of an unplanned pregnancy. Where religion replaces higher education or a good job in importance, marriage tends to as well. And that leads to more divorce.

Sources: Council on Contemporary Families