Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Qualification of findings

(Post eight of a series on Christian divorce rates)

Okay, if the data show that active Christians have very low rates of divorce, then Christianity lowers divorce rates, right?

Maybe, but maybe not. We can not tell from the data that I've presented.

The association between active Christianity and low divorce rates may be due to one or more of the following:

1) Causation. Maybe being Christian lowers the likelihood of getting a divorce.

2) Reverse causation. Maybe getting divorce lowers the likelihood of becoming a Christian. Perhaps divorcees avoid the church for fear of being stigmatized.

3) Reverse causation. Maybe Christians who get divorced leave the church or attend less frequently. Perhaps they feel less comfortable or feel marginalized. Perhaps they feel pressured out.

4) Spurious causation. Maybe some factor, we'll cleverly call it "X" leads to both religious behavior and longer-term marriages. Perhaps there is a genetic predisposition to conventional behavior?

5) Methodological artifact. Maybe Christians are less forthcoming on surveys in regards to events that violate their beliefs, such as divorce. If so, this association is really a methodological artifact. (Thanks Ashley!)

All of these interpretations are possible, and it would take sophisticated analysis of either experimental or time-ordered data to sort them out.

Tomorrow: An evaluation of Barna's divorce statistics I


Jay Livingston said...

I'm not sure what you mean by "Christian." Some people (born-agains) use it to refer only to people like themselves, but not those who are less intense about their Christianity. But if you mean it to mean anyone who checks a Catholic or Protestant denomination on the questionnaire, I don't see how you can say that Christians have lower divorce rates. If you are comapring Protestants and Catholics vs. Others, non-active Others have slightly lower divorce rates; active others have slightly higher divorce rates (about 5 percentage points in each case).

Clearly the strongest predictor is active vs. non-active. That suggests factor X -- under your #4. That factor might be a Durkheimian variable -- the relative emphasis placed on the individual (and his or her desires, happiness, etc.) or on social insititutions that the person is bound up in. Those institutions include marriage and religion.

brewright said...

Jay, you're right about the Christian-other religion comparisons. I was comparing active Catholic & Protestant vs. active other, but the better comparison is all Christian versus all other religion. I have added these stats to the original data (posted last week), and I redid the summary section.

As for religion as social institution, I'm going to pick up this theme on the last post.

Good catch!

Anonymous said...

maybe the only reason there is less divorce in the christian community is that church leaders have used fear to ensure people won't divorce. the catholic church doesn't even recognize divorce and you have to get the marriage annulled before you can remarry. imagine that, you have to ask the church to tell you that the last years of your life that you spent with another person never really happened.

and i truly believe many christians stay married only out of fear for what their god may think, as preached to them throughout their lives. funny i never heard jesus talk of annullments or divorce.

i may be incorrect but isn't the foundation of monogamy within the christian married family based in feudal times. if a person died without an heir didn't the church inherit the land. They preached be faithful because if the man had a child out of wedlock the church wouldn't receive their land when they died. Keep them from having extramarital sex and the church gets rich in doing so.

i think if you really did research into the subject of why marriages last so long you'll find many old people who don't like each other but stayed together becasue they been told to do that their whole lives. they probably could have had happier lives but fear of god and wrath of the church keep them from chosing a different path.

basically, people stay married because they have something in common, whether it is religion or simply hiking, people just need to have a connection with their partner. with people of the same faith however, rules laid down by their church has probably more influence in the divorce rate than the actual happiness of couples. simply are there any religions that don't frown upon divorce? what are the stats for divorce rates among people where both partners have no religion or faith, are they any different?