Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Statistics about christian divorce rates

(This summarizes a series on Christian divorce rates that starts here)

Many people believe that Christian marriages end in divorce just as often as non-Christian, but it turns out, using the best data available, that this is not true.

To illustrate, here are the divorce rates among ever-married respondents in the General Social Survey (GSS, 2000-2004)—one of the best known sources of sociological data. “Frequent” is attending church about once a week or more.

58%, non-frequent Black Protestants
54%, non-frequent Evangelicals
51%, no religion (e.g., atheists & agnostics)
48%, non-frequent, other religions
47%, frequent Black Protestants
42%, non-frequent, mainline Protestants
41%, non-frequent Catholics
39%, Jews
38%, frequent other religions
34%, frequent Evangelicals
32%, frequent mainline Protestants
23%, frequent Catholics

I also analyzed data from previous years of the GSS and from five other national surveys, and they showed the same pattern: Christians, especially those who frequently attend church, have relatively low divorce rates.

This raises an interesting question: Why do so many people believe otherwise? It appears to stem from the work of George Barna. In well-publicized studies, he has compared divorce rates of “born again” Christians against non-Christians, and he finds little difference. Here’s the catch: his type of analysis labels as “non-Christian” many mainline Protestants, such as Presbyterians, Lutherans, and Episcopalians, and most Catholics. As such, he is comparing Christians against Christians. Ron Sider has publicized Barna’s statistics in his award winning Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience.

Some qualifications: The real question here is whether being Christian lessens divorce, and while the data above suggest “yes,” they can be interpreted otherwise. Perhaps people who get divorced also stop attending church. Perhaps those who attend church are also those who would stay married anyway. In addition, members of other religions also have low divorce rates. This should not be surprising since these other religions, such as Judaism, Mormonism, and Christian Science, have similar moral teachings about divorce.

What does this mean for Christians, especially pastors and other Christian leaders? The message is good news: Church efforts to keep marriages together appear to be effective. Also, perhaps the best thing for marriages is frequent church attendance.


Ben Dubow said...

Great series Brad!

I'll be giving this some more thought in the next couple of days, but as an evangelical pastor I was most struck by the difference between non-frequent attending Evangelicals (54%) and frequent attending Evangelicals (34%) -- a 20 point difference based on attendance as a factor!

That is encouraging! It will be interesting to think about how we can lower that number even more! Maybe church twice a week? (just kidding...)

Jim Martin said...

Thanks for visiting my blog earlier today.

I just read your post and I must read this again. This is very encouraging. I would like to look at the rest of the series. Again--thanks, this is very good.

Mat said...

Great stuff!
I think that some of the confusion stems from an issues portrayed well by Scot McKnight http://www.jesuscreed.org/?p=1799 on how Evangelical (or for this instance, "born again") has become in the popular eye more of a cultural-political identity rather than a particular belief and practice.
Even though such unhelpful categories (and the cultural-political baggage they carry) are unavoidable, your study does well to point to religious practice as a more accurate indicator for quantifiable data.
Even though we are Christians rightly concerned with Orthodoxy (right thinking) we must realize the impossibility of quantifying it. "Orthopraxy" (right doing) is the only sort of reliable measure we can use -- even if we humbly acknowledge a degree of slippage from Orthodoxy.

brewright said...

Scot McKnight's post about evangelical identity sounds right on the money, and I think it explains some of what's going on here.

I'm actually fine with comparing evangelicals versus other christians versus non-Christians. That's kind of interesting.

I get concerned, however, when all non-evangelicals get classified as non-Christian. I hope that is methodological sloppiness rather than actual doctrinal beliefs.

Anonymous said...

Barna did a survey in 1999 which found that atheists and agnostics were less likely to be divorced than were Christians other than Catholics and Lutherans. However, what became evident is that many of the people who had never been divorced had never been married in the first place. Interestingly, many of the so-called professional sceptics who delight in bashing religion didn't see this weakness and reported this study as, pardon the pun, gospel truth.

However, in 2004 Barna published another survey that only included people who had ever been married. Atheists and agnostics had a divorce rate similar to the average of other respondents (at 37%, actually slightly higher than the 35% of other groups). So the seemingly glowing results of atheists in the previous study were not due to their supposedly better marriages but their lower marriage rate.

Emily Helgersen (ehelgersen@hotmail.com)

brewright said...

Hi Emily,

Interesting stats... does this mean that the best way to avoid divorce is to not get married?

In fairness to Barna, this kind of mistake is insanely easy to make, and it's something I constantly worry about in my own work.

This makes uncomfortable that Barna appears not to go through any peer-review process that might catch some of these mistakes.

Anonymous said...

another factor not often mentioned is the large number of never divorced couples. Most couples never divorce, and those that do, often divorce more than once.

Anonymous said...

Hi, it's Emily again.

I suppose you can say that the best way to avoid divorce is never to marry in the first place, but I guess you can say the best way to avoid getting hit by a car is never to cross the street. But few people are going to remain confined to their homes or their yards just to avoid getting hit by a car.

So I guess the moral is: whether you're crossing the street or getting married, just be careful and think about what you're doing.

Lori said...

Very encouraging and uplifting data, especially to one who, only a year ago, was seeking an attorney to file for a divorce from her husband, leave her children behind and go off with another man. Absolutely not God's plan for my life at the time nor my family's. But my husband's faith in the Lord was so very strong - he was one of the "All Christians" on your data list. That faith, along with how he obeyed the Lord kept this marriage together. Don't get me wrong, there were many, many rough times when he wanted to give in but he obeyed and persisted and a year later, we are a new couple, together in Christ and it's awesome.

Brad Wright said...

What a story Lori...congratulations! Marriage is such a difficult, rewarding, painful, fantastic mix. Your story tells of a reality of it--work.

inkaboutit said...

Swingers encourage their spouse to enjoy sex outside of marriage report a 5% divorce rate.

But non-swinger sex outside of marriage normal cause divorce.

This is the opposite.

In the Bible God is pro-polygamy. So they had many sexual lovers out side the one man, one women marriage and they had a much lower divorce rate.

Most all Godly men in the Bible had many sex partner and God greatly used these men.

the two men that God gave greatest honor to had sex with many women. king David the highest honor a man after God own heart had over 25 wives and concubine and unklimited amount if wanted 2 Sam 12:8 and Solomon the wisest man on earth with God given wisdom had over 1000 wives and concubines. he had sex out side the one man one women marriage more then 999 times. Song of Solomon is one story of he was married to 60 wives and 80 cocubines and have nude dates and oral sex with a un married virgin girl. They were not married and she was still unmarried and a virgin at the end of SOS So 6:8 and it says that Solomon had also unlimited amount of women to have sex with if he wanted. SOS 6:8

Swingers are a lot more like King David and King Solomon then Christian are, with out making a big deal over the fact that there spouse has sex with someone else.


Other Brief Ideas
"Swingers" are known to have a lower than normal divorce rate. One study showed divorce rate among swingers was only 5% compared to the normal rate of 40% for traditional marriages. Swinging is for people who like people. There is more honestly of feelings between couples and can make a marriage more exciting with openness and carefully selected sexuality with other friends.

inkaboutit said...

The study below shows that 85% of marriage have opposite sex drive partner. Meaning a high sex drive person ends up marrying a much lower sex drive person. Result in that one spouse get enough sex and the other is alway in need of more.

So why not match up couple swaps with the opposite sex drives combo to creat a balance in sexual needs.

It is hard for 2 high sex drive people to live together. Too much high energy, high emotion. But 2 high sex drive persons are great meeting each other sexual needs having the same hig sex drive passions.

So if oppostie couple swap partner once in a while it would greatly high get both high sex drive person need fulfilled.


To understand 85% of marriages you need to understand the below research. A 30 year study.

To understand different sex drive in different people more check out web site: Hypnosis Motivation Institute http://www.hypnosismotivation.com/books.html the books, Relationship Strategies-John G. Kappas, Ph.D and Improve Your Sex Life and video tape Relationship Strategies: The Video 2 hours are well worth buying. After 10 years of marriage, this information greatly helped me to understand my spouse and how they think and why they respond the way they do.

Allen said...

Isn't the GSS data kind of peculiar for studying this? 65% of the respondents have had a divorce, and far far fewer report any religious strength/participation in their lives. Further, perhaps barely 1% of the total respondents (or less depending on how you slice it) report any born again experience.

Allen again said...

Perhaps you could review the divorces amongst those reporting 1 or more on the variable NUMRELEX or by certain answers for the ENTITY variable.

This might better compare with the Barna divorce %s for born agains. No?

Anonymous said...

Great blog, Brad. I'm not sure how religion figures into to divorce, but those are interesting statistics.

I'm not terribly religious, but I did get a divorce a few years ago. It was uncontested. We were young, too young. So, we just got out paperwork done through an online site JointDivorce.com.

There was no malice, only stupidity. I'm remarried and swear never to go through it again. So, we'll have to see how I do.


Bill said...

I did in fact attend the Anaheim Vineyard Church when Andy Comiskey, an associate pastor well known for his work with gay and lesbian people, stated that, even though he is married, he still struggled with an attraction to men on occasion. He noted he continued to give it to God and he had seen much growth over the years. The people I talked to were very blessed by his vulnerability and authentic witness and I believe he has continued to be very successful in his ministry. Bill

alice said...

I was married for 31 years to an abuser, then divorced. I then experienced a kind of abuse I had never heard of: SPIRITUAL abuse...my church of 31 years voted me out of membership, with my name up on a big screen, followed by the words, "Conduct Unbecoming a Child of God." I fought the system for 18 months to try and stop the "pastor" from counseling any more women, because 2 of them wanted to commit suicide...I allowed the ex to live in my house after the divorce, and I guess that was their problem.

1 in 3 women are being abused; those are staggering statistics. Unfortunately, I cannot attend a church anymore (anything of a religious nature triggers me);

Something wonderful came out of the debacle: www.churchabusepoetrytherapy.com--faith-based poems of anguish, healing, hope and comfort came pouring from my wounded soul. Elie Wiesel (survivor of Auschwitz) has written to me about my poetry; I am humbled and honored. Feel free to e-mail me: wacalice@aol.com
Alice Carleton (overcomer and wounded-healer)

Anonymous said...

Well then.

Search Your Bible said...


Divorce + Remarriage = Adultery



Lisa Simmons said...

I do believe that going to church more often leads to less likelihood of divorce if only because who you hang around is typically who you imitate. If you're used to seeing couples on a weekly basis who are married and appear to be happy then you believe it is possible. If you are not in these situations, you tend to believe the media and think that monogomy and "til death do you part" is not possible.

That said, I am an evangelical born-again Christian who attends church 2x a week. My husband and I help lead a class of young married couples and mentor couples as well. We have been married 29 years. When our close friends of over 20 years divorced a couple of years ago who also attended church regularly, teaching Sunday School, being a deacon etc, I started looking seriously into why these divorces happen. What's different. Conversely, why do some marriages ie: Hollywood marriages/relationships last without any seemingly religious tribute or overtones.
There must be a common thread among marriages whether they are based on religious beliefs or not that cause some people to stay together and some people to throw in the towel. Any guesses? I'm not looking for the obvious...committment, love, etc. Those are vague and cannot be measured easily. There's got to be something; maybe more than one thing to attribute a successful marriage to.

Brad Wright said...

Great question, Lisa, and I have little expertise in the matter. Sure, I have my own experiences, but I'm not all the familiar with the research literature in this area.

Here's one researcher who's work I've found interesting:



christian magazine said...

its sad to see so called christians go out and violate a code that they profess to follow

TRUTH459 said...

Hello Bradly,

Perhaps you could read my Blog, "Jesus calls it Adultery!"


Thanks, Roger / Florida / USA.

Daniel said...

It would be interesting to see a comparison between casual evangelicals and those strong in their faith. As for how to avoid divorce, my wife and I devote lots of time to one another. There is a great book that illustrates this point. It's titled HIS NEEDS HER NEEDS by Dr Hartley. I highly recommend it. Dr Hartley offers great insight into how to affair proof your marriage. A must read for anyone who is married 1 day or 100 years. It only makes married life better.

Brad Wright said...

Thanks for the book recommendation... I'll check it out.

Anonymous said...

What did you use to measure divorce? The variable DIVORCE does not have percentages as high as you report.

When you use FUND and DIVORCE, fundamentalist have the highest divorce rates. What would Jesus say about that?

Brad Wright said...

Did you look at divorce since 2000? That's what this post does, and divorce rates went up substantially since the early 1970s, so looking at the variable overall all years gives a much lower rate.

Anonymous said...

Mormons consider themselves Cristian. Describing them as otherwise is a slap in the face.

Gary said...

I was visitor 144,000 to your site. I'm just saying.

Allison said...

I know this is just anecdotal information, but I have noticed something interesting among my fellow alumni members from Philadelphia Biblical University (known as Philadelphia College of Bible when I graduated in 1970). At the time, divorce was considered taboo. But among the graduates on Facebook, that I have been in contact with, a surprising number are now divorced, even those who married fellow alumni. Have you looked into the change of attitudes about divorce among evangelicals. I think it is possible that although more negative than the general population, it has become more acceptable by many.

Brad Wright said...

Hello Allison,

I think that your correct that divorce is becoming more acceptable and less stigmatized now than in the past. Certainly rates of it in society have steadily increased over the decades.

maxm1961 said...

Regarding evangelical and fundamentalist Christians, I think a few factors might contribute to the discrepancy between orthodoxy and orthopraxy. One is that other sectors of Christianity tend to have more family and extended-family involvement with the same traditions. Unlike mainline Protestants and Catholics, a large portion of Bible Christians are born again from other traditions. Second, Bible Christianity tends to welcome lots of people with histories of serious personal problems; their churches are a ministry. Third, Bible Christianity encourages an engagement with an increasingly secular culture. It's not just something you do on Sunday mornings. Many followers are eventually lured by drinking with the guys, feminist ideas, materialism, etc. It's a case of easy come and easy go. Fourth, Bible Christianity encourages a judgemental attitude after individuals have been born again; everything up to that point is forgiven. This can mean seeking excuses for divorce when one party is unhappy in the marriages. The two excuses of adultery and abandonment can be stretched to include mental adultery and emotional abandonment.

Anonymous said...

I direct an evangelical apologetics ministry. I often utilize stats from Barna, Pew, Harris, Gallup and others to demonstrate the drift and decline of the Church. But I try to be cautious in order to be accurate. I am concerned that Barna's divorce stats did not take into account whether a respondant had been divorced before becoming a Christian or after.I never saw that factored in his discussion of the data. Also, the terms "Evangelical" and Christian are so often juxdisposed in research. In some research Barna distinquishes nominal(70%), born-again (40%), and evangelical(7-8%)based on content answers on doctrinal adherence and possibly activity. I do not believe he makes those distinctions in his report on the Christian divorce rates. Having been a member,staff member, and an elder in two large evangelical churches (PCA)for 34 years, I know that the divorce rate is considerably lower than in the general population.
Craig Branch, Director, Apologetics Resource Center

Paul Graf said...

Here is another interesting blog about divorce and statistics. In short, it states that divorce rates are also directly tied to education level, and that divorce rates among Christians are lower than that of non-believers of the same education level. Another interesting way to slice the data.

Anonymous said...

Wow! I would like to know what's the measurement error for these percentages? Assuming there is a measurement error of plus/minus 1%, then we get a difference of divorce rates ranging from 5% to 9% between non-believers and all christians. Therefore, the statement that the divorce rate for christians being "almost" equal to that of non-believers is "almost" true. So, it means that Barna is "almost" right. This is nothing to feel good about!