Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Christians' rates of extramarital sex

(Post 2 in a series)

Let's start with a important distinction: Extramarital sex is very different than extra marital sex ;-). One is a great idea, the other isn't.

As I have done in previous series published here, I will compare Christian denominations vs. other religions vs. people of no religion. I will also separate religious people by the frequency of their attendance, with the idea being that more frequent attendance represents greater commitment and involvement.

Also, as discussed in previous posts, these are cross-sectional data that simply answer if Christians are different. Why they are different is a much more difficult question to answer. Perhaps Christianity makes people act differently; perhaps people who act differently join Christianity; perhaps Christians answer sensitive survey questions differently.

With these qualifications in mind, let's go to the numbers. These are statistics drawn from the General Social Survey, one of the most frequently used data sets in the social sciences. I used data from 1990 - 2004, encompassing over 20,000 respondents.

The GSS asks "Have you ever had sex with someone other than your husband or wife while you were married." As such, these data do not include people who were never married.

Rates of extramarital sex by religion/ attendance levels are as follows:

27.7%, Black Protestant, non-active
26.1%, No religious affiliation
22.8%, Other religions, non-active
19.6%, Evangelical, non-active
19.3%, Black Protestant, active
18.8%, Catholic, non-active
17.1%, Mainline Protestant, non-active
16.1% All Christians
15.1%, Jewish (predominately infrequent attenders)
13.2%, Other religions, active
11.0%, Evangelical, active
10.3%, Catholic, active
9.9%, Mainline Protestant, active

What do these data tell us? There seems to be a big religion effect, in that people who are involved in any religion have lower rates of adultery than those with no religious affiliation. There is also a big attendance effect--people who attend religious services weekly are much less likely to have extramarital sex. Finally, there's a moderate Christian effect in that compared to other religions, Christians have relatively low rates of extramarital sex.

It is possible, however, that what looks like a religion effect is really a gender effect. Maybe more women are both more likely to be religious and less likely to have affairs, so the measures of religion here are simply proxies for gender. I'll address this issue tomorrow.

Tomorrow: Christianity, extramarital sex, and gender



Knumb said...

Every stat is lower than I would have expected.

Good to know.

S.S.Stone said...

Amazing how one little space can make such a difference-( Extra marital / extramarital ) gotta watch those spaces*smile*

I'm tending to think more towards it being a gender effect than religion. I believe that if you stay close to God/practice your faith, you're more likely not to engage in extramarital affairs/other sinful behaviour- Since I'm not married I feel limited in expressing my views..I think it's a sign of our times why the stats are that low...wonder what they were 30 years ago....would be interesting to see if (and how fast)they've progressively decreased.

Brad Wright said...

I agree, John. I guess that the American people are lagging behind Hollywood.

Intesting question Sarah about how these rates have changed over time. Does anyone know of such data?

yvesjennifer1 said...

Hi, my name is Yves and I'm working on a book discussing Christian Moral Failure. Please let me know where you got your statistics from. I'd like to use them in my book.

yvesjennifer1 said...

Hi, I'm working on a book on Christian Moral Failure. Please let me know where you obtained your stats. I'd like to use them in my book.

Brad Wright said...

Hello Yves,

You can find them in the book Christians are Hate-Filled Hypocrites by yours truly.