Divorce and religion might not always make the morning news anymore, but there's still space for exploring how they influence one another. Despite being more connected than ever, there's still not a ton of research on how religion does or doesn't impact divorce rates in America. Yet, the statistics that are available hint at a few compelling ideas about how religion affects culture and the ways that trickles down into our relationships.
Connections Between Divorce Statistics and Religion
Since religion and marriage are often intertwined, it's natural that there might be some connections between religion and divorce. Generally, every religion has its own views on partnerships, marriages, and divorce. When comparing people's religious affiliations to their divorce rates, there is some limited insight into which groups in America might be more likely to divorce and which ones more rarely do.
|Religions and Denominations||American Divorce Rates|
|Born Again Christian||33%|
Currently, the most comprehensive research compiled about divorce rates and religious beliefs comes from a 2014 study conducted by Pew Research Center. Unlike other research areas such as infidelity, there aren't many comprehensive studies that've been done comparing religious beliefs and divorce. And even what makes this topic even more challenging is that Pew's study doesn't represent the same size polling groups for every religion, and it only looked at current marital status of the participants in the study.
While that doesn't negate the throughlines we can uncover from this information, just like how divorce rates change over time, it means that it's likely to change or evolve as more information comes to light.
It's important to note that there is limited information about divorce rates by religion. The information from the Pew Study mentioned in this article is based on the study's results from polling people about their current marital status, so it doesn't include whether they have ever been divorced or the number of marriages that end in divorce for that religion.
Christian Divorce Rates
One of the largest religious affiliations in the US is Christianity. However, under this general umbrella are several denominations, each of which has their own covenants about marriage. These covenants and their unique beliefs on marriage have varying effects on their follower's divorce rates.
According to the data by the Pew Research Center, Catholics had one of the lowest incidences of divorce, with 19% having been divorced out of 4,752 interviewed. Even with such a large survey group, the margin of error is still quite small at around +/-1.5%.
To get even more specific of a view of Catholic divorce rates, we can look to the Gospel Coalition. The Gospel Coalition noted there is a somewhat significant difference between those who are actively practicing Catholics and those who consider themselves nominally Catholic. The coalition found nominal Catholics are 5% less likely to divorce than non-religious persons, while Catholics who are actively practicing in their parishes are 31% less likely to get divorced than non-religious persons.
The Pew study found Protestant individuals (anyone who identified themselves as a non-Catholic Christian) included 74% of all Christians, and had a divorce rate of approximately 51% out of a sampling of 4,752 individuals.
However, these were broken down by Evangelical Protestant, Mainline Protestant, and Historically Black Protestant. Of this 74%, the highest number of divorces among this group were the Evangelical Protestants at 28%. The Historically Black Protestants had a divorce rate of only 9% according to the study.
According to the 2014 Pew Research Center's Religious Landscape Study, 9% of 661 Mormons polled identify as divorced. This low rate can be, at least partially, explained by the importance that the LDS church places on the nuclear family unit and the fact that sealed spouses are seen as bound together for eternity, divorced or not.
Hence why sealed, married Mormons are statistically less likely to get divorced than other religious identities are.
According to the Pew Research Study, in a sampling of 244 Jehovah's Witnesses, 9% of them were divorced. Granted, this data has some of the largest error margins in the survey at +/-8.5%, meaning that we need more information collected before being able to properly assess how Jehovah's Witness beliefs might impact their divorce habits.
The Orthodox Christian divorce rate was less than 1% for all religions, including the Orthodox Church in America. The Pew Research Center's study reported, with a sampling size of 182, that there was a 9% divorce rate for this group.
Just as with the Jehovah's Witness, with such a small polled group, the margin for percentage error is quite high. With Orthodox Christians it's between 12-8.5%, which is far too large of a margin to make any definitive claims about their connections to each other.
Born-again Christians are harder to track because they don't all belong to the same denominations. So, the last actual research done on the group was by the Barna group in 2008. It showed the divorce rate for those born again was 33% out of 1,373 surveyed people. However, it should also be noted this group had the highest marriage rates of the bunch (a total of 3,792) at 84%.
With a small margin of error, we can take this information with much greater credibility than some of the other religions polled. At the end of the day, it looks like Born-again Christians are much closer to Protestant numbers than Catholic ones, perhaps because of how Protestant faiths don't view divorce with the same taboo that Catholicism does.
Muslim Divorce Rate
Dr. Ilyas Ba-Yunas, a professor of sociology at the State University of New York, conducted the most comprehensive study on Muslim divorce rates in the 1990s. According to his research, the divorce rate among American Muslims was slightly more than 31%.
Top reasons for divorce among Muslims, cited by a later Sound Vision survey, include pressures and issues with in-laws, adultery and harem sex, and incompatibility. However, in 2014, the previously mentioned Pew Research Center listed Muslims having an 8% separated or divorced rate out of a sampling of 234 people.
Jewish Divorce Rates
The most recent available study on divorce statistics among those of Jewish faith states approximately 9% of those surveyed have been divorced or separated. A 2017 article in The Jerusalem Post reports the divorce rate among members of the Orthodox Jewish faith is on the rise. The reasons for this include changes in society's values, the desire for instant gratification, and a disconnected world.
Hinduism Divorce Rates
Of a sampling of just 198 Hindu in the Pew Research Study, about 5% of those were divorced. The Census in 2011 in India showed an overall divorce rate of 2 out of 1,000. However, the rate of divorce for this faith in India is lower than it is in the US.
Buddhism Divorce Rates
The Pew Research Center showed that 10% of the 263 sampled Buddhists in America were divorced. Based on 2011 Census data of India, about 4.8 in 1,000 Buddhists were divorced. This was much higher than both the Hindu and Muslim communities at this time in India.
Sikhism Divorce Rates
According to a 2011 Census in India, the reported rate of divorce for Sikh women was 6.3 per 1,000. BBC News then reported, however, that the divorce rate among Indian religions is climbing. There's some speculation that the trend could be due to people focusing more on careers and cultural/social differences.
Wicca/Pagan Divorce Rates
Finding divorce rates among new age religions like Wicca/Pagan religions can be hard. The aforementioned Pew Research said that the divorce rate for these religions was less than 1% of their 4,000+ sampling. But, it's hard to claim this information as definitive since only a small number of Wicca/Pagan people make up the much larger survey pool.
Atheist Divorce Rates
While not a religion but the lack of a religious belief entirely, atheists have reportedly some of the lowest divorce rates. However, it's important to note that the marriage rate among this group is also smaller. When compared with Christian couples, one 2012 study conducted by the Pew Research Center found that only about 36% of atheists were married as opposed to 54% of Christians.
What Does It All Mean?
Reading through a collection of multi-level statistics can make even the most number-savvy person's head spin. So, it's okay if you're feeling a little overwhelmed by the numbers and wondering what exactly it's all supposed to mean. Based on the Pew study's findings, we can make a few assessments:
- While it's challenging to determine which religion has the highest divorce rate, people who belong to religions with a strong focus on traditional family structures and the sanctity of marriage, such as Catholicism and Mormonism, are generally less likely to divorce than those with looser views on marriage.
- Christianity amounts for the biggest religious group in the United States, and so it makes up the largest polled group available. So, their divorce trends (low Catholic divorces and high Protestant divorces) probably have a bigger day-to-day impact on U.S. culture than smaller religious groups do.
- There's still a lot of research that needs to be done on divorce in smaller religious group communities, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Paganism. Because of the small number of people polled and high margin for error, it's difficult to glean any concrete relationship between their religious beliefs and the divorce rates in their communities.
There's More to Learn About the Relationships Between Religion and Divorce
Just like the list of reasons for a divorce is exhaustive, the ways religious beliefs impact couples' feelings about or actions towards divorce are massive. But, when you put all of the divorce statistics by each religion side-by-side, you can see how the religions that practice strict, traditional tenants have a lower divorce rate than those that don't.
Although there are some trends among groups in various studies, at the end of the day, religion is one of many factors that comes into play where divorce is concerned. And we have plenty more to learn about religion and divorce as the world continues to change.