Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Christian divorce rates compared to whom?

(Post three of a series on Christian divorce rates)

In thinking about Christian divorce rates, the thing that we really want to know is if being Christian lowers peoples’ likelihood of divorce. This is a causality question, and it is surprisingly difficult to conclusively test with empirical data.

About the only way to definitively answer this question would be to take a large group of married people, randomly assign some to Christian practice, others to other belief systems, and then observe their comparative divorce rates over time. Obviously infeasible (as well as immoral and not approvable by IRB).

For situations like this, where experiments won't work, social scientists have developed many other research strategies, and I’ll be using one of the simplest ones--comparing mean levels across groups. The idea here is that we take one group, e.g., Christians, measure some aspect of them, e.g., divorce rates, and then compare them to another group, e.g., non-Christians.

The question now becomes who to compare to whom? In this context, three comparisons appear to be useful.

1) Christians versus people of no religious beliefs, e.g., atheists and agnostics. This gets at the effect of Christian faith versus having no faith at all.

2) Christians versus people of other religious beliefs, e.g., Muslims, Buddhists, etc…. This is the effect of Christian faith versus other faiths.

3) Active Christians, e.g., those who frequently attend church, versus inactive Christians. This is the effect of greater participation and, presumably, adherence to Christianity.

To be clear, these comparisons can *not* conclusively test if Christianity lowers divorce rates for reasons that I will discuss in a later post, but they are informative, instructive, and, as to be shown tomorrow, counter to prevailing wisdom.

Tomorrow: Divorce rates by religious affiliation I


Dan Myers said...

I'd think that differences across the dimensions of religiosity (not just attendence) would matter more than Christianity, per se. Looking forward to seeing what you find.

Scot McKnight said...

Great series Brad.

brewright said...

Thank you.