Philippa Taylor

Do Christians divorce at lower or higher rates than others?

Philippa Taylor was Head of Public Policy at CMF until September 2019 and now works with CARE. She has an MA in Bioethics from St Mary’s University College and a background in policy work on bioethics and family issues.
The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of CMF.

It is widely assumed that Christians divorce at roughly the same rate as non-Christians. This ‘fact’ is generally quoted within the context of arguing that faith makes little real and practical difference to the lives of believers.

Here is what Wikipedia says:

Secular and religious critics have accused many Christians of being hypocritical. For instance, although marital fidelity and family values are arguably central to Christian morality, a study by the Barna Research Group has shown that divorce rates among Evangelical Christians were higher than for other faith groups, and also trended higher than the rate of divorce among atheists and agnostics.’

While I do not have recent statistics from the UK, there is an interesting article circulating in the US and over here by Glenn Stanton, which busts this myth completely

Stanton states that research showing that people who seriously practise a traditional religious faith – whether Christian or other – have divorce rates markedly lower than the general population:

Couples who regularly practise any combination of serious religious behaviors and attitudes – attend church nearly every week, read their Bibles and spiritual materials regularly; pray privately and together; generally take their faith seriously, living not as perfect disciples, but serious disciples – enjoy significantly lower divorce rates than mere church members, the general public, and unbelievers.’

The research that this statement is based on is by Bradford Wilcox, a sociologist at the University of Virginia and director of the National Marriage Project. Wilcox found that regular church attenders are 35% less likely to divorce compared to those who have no affiliation. (Interestingly, nominally attending protestants are actually 20% more likely to divorce than secular Americans). Wilcox found similar results for those who are nominally Jewish compared to those who he describes as ‘active’.

Similar results have also been reported in a large survey of marriage and divorce across Oklahoma in 2001, authored by Prof Scott Stanley, Paul Amato and others. They found that Oklahomans with higher religious faith and practice healthcarewell kamagra were more likely to report higher marital quality and less likely to have experienced divorce.

The same report suggests some reasons why this link holds:

Whether young or old, male or female, low-income or not, those who said that they were more religious reported higher average 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 when controlling for such important variables as income, education, and age at first marriage. This is not surprising since church attendance is a behavioural indication of involvement in a faith community.’

On one hand, therefore, we can be encouraged that, as we would expect, a living faith, genuine discipleship and being involved in a church with other believers do indeed make a difference in peoples lives, and seems to help strengthen both the quality and longevity of marriage.

But on the other hand, these figures should not make us complacent because divorce rates amongst all groups, including committed church going Christians, are still high.

Of course, divorce is nothing new, which is probably why the Bible has so much to say about it. Divorce demonstrates the fallen nature of the world in which all Christians live.  Marriage, in any culture and at any point in history, can be hard work. However God, the Creator of marriage, has set out his plan for marriage as a lifelong union. The benefits to health and well-being from healthy, committed marriages are well known. When we stray from his plan the results are damaging on many levels.

So on one hand, the church has an incredibly important role in supporting married people and in upholding and teaching on the sanctity of marriage. But on the other hand, it must at the same time demonstrate God’s love by providing understanding, help, support and hope of restoration for those who are divorcing and divorced.

Posted by Philippa Taylor
CMF Head of Public Policy



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