Religion and Divorce


It is a well-known fact that most religions tend to be strict on relationships between men and women. Traditionally, religious postulates a sort of regulate sex and frown upon cohabitation and other forms of extramarital activities as ‘living in sin’. This make many of us think that regions with high percentages of religious population should have lower than average divorce rates. Do they?

According to general statistics, half of all marriages in the USA end in divorce. Over the past few years, sociologists have concluded that religious couples are less likely to break up. Statistics varies from one religious group to another: Catholicism reduces divorce rate by 31%, Protestant couples show divorce rates reduced by 35%, and Judaist couples are 95% less likely to divorce.

Dr. Bradford Wilcox in one of his interviews confirmed that Americans who are not affiliated with any religion, end their marriages more frequently. On the contrary, those affiliated with mainline religions tend to build stronger and more lasting families. At the same time, it has been discovered that conservative Protestants, who are traditionally strict on divorce, show unexpectedly high divorce rates, which exceeds those typical of religiously unaffiliated citizens.

Thus, Alabama and Arkansas – states with the highest concentration of conservative Protestants – show much higher divorce statistics (13 divorces per 1000 of population) than New Jersey and Massachusetts (6 and 7 split-ups per 1000 people respectively), which are among the most religiously liberal states.

Why does that happen?

Is it really conservative Protestantism that breaks up marriages? Considering its traditional attitude to marriage, this does not sound true.

Alabama and Arkansas are located in Southeast, the part of the country with high poverty rates. It happens so that these and other relatively poor states have the highest concentration of people affiliated with conservative Protestantism. Because poverty is one of the key factors that create a potential for high divorce rates, it does keep them high in areas populated by conservative Protestants.

Another important factor, which is known to influence divorce rate, is education. It has been observed that people who have a college education are more capable of building a lasting relationship than those having just a high school education. Statistically, a high number of traditional Protestants do not go further than high school. Therefore, they run a greater risk of divorce.

Because conservative Protestantism is strict on extramarital sex, many young people choose to get married as soon as possible. These immature decisions coupled with low incomes make marriages extremely fragile, and most of them end quickly.

Conservative marital views also affect citizens, who are not actually affiliated with the religion. It is not uncommon for atheist young men and women populating these states to get married before 18. These marriages are also among those that are most likely to collapse.


In most cases, high divorce rates result from secular factors, such as poverty, lack of education, immature marriages, etc. As to the high divorce statistics in counties populated by conservative Protestants, it is these factors rather than the religion itself that cause families to break up. Excessive strictness on sex may indirectly contribute to divorce rates, as it often happens to young spouses. However, most people adhering to mainline religions believe that “God is at the center of marriage”, and 53% of them agree to the statement.

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