We hear too often from good Christian leaders that the divorce rate in the church rivals the divorce rate of the world. But is this true?

It is not. Not even close.

Very good social science research shows us that serious belief and faithful church attendance make a robust difference in strengthening marriages.

The mistaken stat originally came from a well-respected Christian polling group, and the assertion has unfortunately taken on the status of a truism. The truth is that divorce risk is substantially lower for those who take their faith very seriously.

Research conducted at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and published by  one of its professors of biostatistics Tyler J. VanderWeele, explains that “religious service attendance is associated with greater marital stability — or more specifically, with a lower likelihood of divorce.”

VanderWeele explains that other research has shown that those who regularly attend church or synagogue “are about 30 to 50 percent less likely to divorce than those who do not.” After controlling for certain possible confounding factors, VanderWeele’s own research demonstrates that “those who attended religious services were 47 percent less likely to subsequently divorce.”

Forty-seven percent less likely is very different than the divorce risk being similar between the faithful and non-believers.

But Harvard’s is not the only research bringing truth to expose this false claim.

University of Virginia sociologist Brad Wilcox makes a very compelling research-based case in his new book, Get Married: Why Americans Must Defy the Elites, Forge Strong Families, and Save Civilization, that faith has a very strong positive impact on marital well-being and protection from divorce.

He states forcefully that “the truth is that religion is generally a force for good when it comes to the quality and stability of married life, men’s and women’s satisfaction with their lives, and the welfare of children.” He adds,

The research tells us that American men and women who regularly attend church … are significantly happier in their marriages, less likely to end up divorced, and more satisfied with their lives – and their children are more likely to flourish.

Data shows this to be true internationally as well.

Wilcox cites data comparing the marital happiness of wives who sometimes and regularly attend church with their husband. Eighty percent of wives who regularly attended (several times a month or more) with their husbands reported being “very happy” with their marriage compared to only 66% of wives who never attend or did so infrequently reporting this. Husbands in the “regularly attend” category were even more likely to report being “very happy” in their marriage, at 84%.

Here is the graph Wilcox presented in his book showing happiness differentials relative to church attendance.

Wilcox even adds specifically,

And, by the way, this happiness premium is also true for churchgoing evangelical Protestant men, who are, on average, markedly happier in their marriages than husband who rarely or never attend.

Of course, very happy couples are not likely to divorce. Wilcox also states in his book, “And the State of Our Unions Survey shows us that evangelical Protestant husbands and wives who attend church together report greater martial stability than those Americans who rarely or never attend.”

Happier and more stable marriages translate into other marital and life benefits as well. Wilcox presents a wealth of research showing that couples who regularly attend church together have more and better sex compared to their non-attending peers. And the margins are dramatic, as evidenced here.

Wilcox explains,

Couples who attend together also report the greatest sexual satisfaction. About three-quarters of these husbands and wives are very happy with their sexual relationship; by contrast, those who do not regularly attend together or at all are markedly less likely to be happy. This difference is statistically significant.

It is essential to understand how leading social science research published over many decades regularly shows us that many personal practices and life-choices reduce one’s risk of divorce, and dramatically so. Many of these are regularly practiced by serious Christians, meaning many believers actually have a remarkably low to almost nil risk of divorce.

  • Beliefs: Going into a marriage with husband and wife holding a strong personal convictionthat marriage is for life is a substantial protection against divorce.
  • Religious Practice: Those with a strong common faith who regularly attend religious services are 47 percent less likely to divorce. However, sharing a nominal faith has no protective effect.
  • Cohabitation: Cohabiting couples have a 50-80 percent higher likelihood of divorce than non-cohabiting couples.
  • Premarital Counseling: Couples who have gone through a marriage education course before marrying are generally up to 30 percent more likely to enjoy marital success.
  • Family Background: Having parents who have never divorced reduces divorce risk by 14 percent. 
  • Marital History: Being previously divorced markedly elevates one’s risk of subsequent divorce.
  • Childbearing: Having children together prior to marriage doubles the risk of divorce in the first 5 years of marriage in contrast to couples who had their first child after the wedding.
  • Desire for Children: A marriage in which the wife desires children but the husband does not is at a 50 percent greater risk of divorce.
  • Sexual History: Marrying as non-virgins is associated with “considerably higher” risk of divorce and “dramatically more unstable first marriages,” as one leading researcher explains.
  • Smoking: Couples in which one partner smokes and the other does not are markedly more likely to divorce compared to couples in which neither spouse does. Marriages in which both smoke were more than twice as likely to dissolve compared with non-smoking couples.
  • Age: Those who marry after age eighteen have a 24 percent reduced risk of divorce. 
  • Age Difference: Marriages where there is a significant difference in age have twice the risk of divorce than those in which the couples are close in age.
  • Education: Women who have at least a bachelor’s degree are dramatically less likely to divorce than their peers with either some or no college education.
  • Income: Having a collective annual household income of $40,000 or more is associated with a 30 percent or more lower divorce risk. 

Together, these persuasive research findings are why scholars like Wilcox confidently state,

It is no accident then, that regular religious attendance is linked to a reduction in your risk of divorce by between 30 and 50 percent. With the State of Our Unions Survey, reports that a marriage is ‘not at all likely’ to end in divorce are especially common among husbands and wives who share a common faith. …The data tells us, then, that shared faith functions as a big hedge against divorce [emphasis added].

He also adds, “Shared faith is linked to more sexual fidelity, greater commitment, happier wives, higher relationship quality (including greater sexual satisfaction), and more stable marriages.”

So no, the divorce rate is not the same in the church as it is in the world. Not even close. A wealth of robust university-based, social science findings show us that a deep and well-practiced faith provides marked and measurable buffers against the tragedy of divorce. That is indeed something to celebrate.

Let’s all do what we can to bust the “faith makes no difference” myth when we hear it coming from the mouths of good Christians and others. Show them how strongly the research says otherwise.


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