Divorce and remarriage
U.S. divorce rates for various faith
groups, age groups, & geographic areas
Divorce rates in the U.S.:
"There is consensus that the overall U.S. divorce rate had a brief spurt after WW2, followed by a decline, then started rising in the 1960s and even more quickly in the 1970s, then leveled off [in the] 1980s and [has since] declined slightly." 7 However, such gross statistics are misleading. There are a number of factors involved that obscure the real data:
The normal lifestyle of American young adults is to live together for a period of time in a type of informal trial marriage. These relationships frequently do not endure.
Couples enter into their first marriage at a older age than in the past.
A growing percentage of committed couples have decided to live in a common-law relationship rather than get married. This is particularly true among some elderly who fear reduction in government support payments.
The current U.S. divorce rate:
The media frequently reports that 50% of American marriages will end in divorce. This number appears to have been derived from very skimpy data related to a single county or state. However, it appears to be reasonable close to the probable value. The Americans for Divorce Reform estimates that "Probably, 40 or possibly even 50 percent of marriages will end in divorce if current trends continue. However, that is only a projection and a prediction."
Divorce rates among Christian groups:
The slogan: "The family that prays together, stays together" is well known. There has been much anecdotal evidence that has led to "unsubstantiated claims that the divorce rate for Christians who attended church regularly, pray together or who meet other conditions is only 1 or 2 percent". 8 Emphasis ours]. Dr. Tom Ellis, chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention's Council on the Family said that for "...born-again Christian couples who marry...in the church after having received premarital counseling...and attend church regularly and pray daily together..." experience only 1 divorce out of nearly 39,000 marriages -- or 0.00256 percent.
A recent study by the Barna Research Group throws extreme doubt on these estimates. Barna released the results of their poll about divorce on 1999-DEC-21. 1 They had interviewed 3,854 adults from the 48 contiguous states. The margin of error is ±2 percentage points. The survey found:
11% of the adult population is currently divorced.
25% of adults have had at least one divorce during their lifetime.
Divorce rates among conservative Christians were significantly higher than for other faith groups, and much higher than Atheists and Agnostics experience.
George Barna, president and founder of Barna Research Group, commented:
"While it may be alarming to discover that born again Christians are more likely than others to experience a divorce, that pattern has been in place for quite some time. Even more disturbing, perhaps, is that when those individuals experience a divorce many of them feel their community of faith provides rejection rather than support and healing. But the research also raises questions regarding the effectiveness of how churches minister to families. The ultimate responsibility for a marriage belongs to the husband and wife, but the high incidence of divorce within the Christian community challenges the idea that churches provide truly practical and life-changing support for marriages."
According to the Dallas Morning News, a Dallas TX newspaper, the national study "raised eyebrows, sowed confusion, [and] even brought on a little holy anger." This caused George Barna to write a letter to his supporters, saying that he is standing by his data, even though it is upsetting. He said that "We rarely find substantial differences" between the moral behavior of Christians and non-Christians. Barna Project Director Meg Flammang said: "We would love to be able to report that Christians are living very distinct lives and impacting the community, but ... in the area of divorce rates they continue to be the same." Both statements seem to be projecting the belief that conservative Christians and liberal Christians have the same divorce rate. This disagrees with their own data.
The survey has come under some criticism:
David Popenoe, co-director of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University has said that the survey doesn't make sense. He based this belief on his assessment that Christians follow biblical models of the family, making a bond that "the secular world doesn't have...It just stands to reason that the bond of religion is protective of marriage, and I believe it is."
Tom Ellis of the Southern Baptist Convention suggests that the Barna poll is inaccurate because the people contacted may have called themselves born-again Christians, without having previously made a real commitment to God. He said: "We believe that there is something more to being a Christian...Just saying you are [a born-again] Christian is not going to guarantee that your marriage is going to stay together."
Some researchers have suggested that religion may have little or no effect on divorce rates. The apparently higher rate among born-again Christians, and lower rate among Atheists and Agnostics may be due to the influence of financial and/or educational factors.
One reason for the discrepancy of beliefs about divorce rates among born-again Christians may be that their churches are unaware of the true number of divorcing couples in their midst.
Many couples would find it difficult to continue attending services in the same congregation after their marital separation. Meeting at church would be awkward. So, they drop out.
Many probably find that the climate in their church is very negative towards divorcing couples. So, they move to other congregations that are either more accepting of divorce, or are unaware of their marital status.
Barna report: Variation in divorce rates among Christian faith groups:
Denomination (in order of decreasing divorce rate) / % who have been divorced
Non-denominational ** - 34%
Baptists - 29%
Mainline Protestants - 25%
Mormons - 24%
Catholics - 21%
Lutherans - 21%
** Barna uses the term "non-denominational" to refer to Evangelical Christian congregations that are not affiliated with a specific denomination. The vast majority are fundamentalist in their theological beliefs. More info.
Barna's results verified findings of earlier polls: that conservative Protestant Christians, on average, have the highest divorce rate, while mainline Christians have a much lower rate. They found some new information as well: that atheists and agnostics have the lowest divorce rate of all. George Barna commented that the results raise "questions regarding the effectiveness of how churches minister to families." The data challenge "the idea that churches provide truly practical and life-changing support for marriage."
Donald Hughes, author of The Divorce Reality, said:
"In the churches, people have a superstitious view that Christianity will keep them from divorce, but they are subject to the same problems as everyone else, and they include a lack of relationship skills. ...Just being born again is not a rabbit's foot."
Hughes claim that 90% of divorces among born-again couples occur after they have been "saved."