The Christian divorce rate

We keep hearing that the divorce rate among Christians is the same as–or maybe a little worse–than that of non-Christians.  That may not be true, at least when you factor in how serious the Christians in question are about their faith:

“Christians divorce at roughly the same rate as the world!” It’s one of the most quoted stats by Christian leaders today. And it’s perhaps one of the most inaccurate.

Based on the best data available, the divorce rate among Christians is significantly lower than the general population.

Here’s the truth….

Many people who seriously practice a traditional religious faith — be it Christian or other — have a divorce rate markedly lower than the general population.

The factor making the most difference is religious commitment and practice. Couples who regularly practice any combination of serious religious behaviors and attitudes — attend church nearly every week, read their Bibles and spiritual materials regularly; pray privately and together; generally take their faith seriously, living not as perfect disciples, but serious disciples — enjoy significantly lower divorce rates than mere church members, the general public and unbelievers.

Professor Bradley Wright, a sociologist at the University of Connecticut, explains from his analysis of people who identify as Christians but rarely attend church, that 60 percent of these have been divorced. Of those who attend church regularly, 38 percent have been divorced.

Other data from additional sociologists of family and religion suggest a significant marital stability divide between those who take their faith seriously and those who do not.

W. Bradford Wilcox, a leading sociologist at the University of Virginia and director of the National Marriage Project, finds from his own analysis that “active conservative Protestants” who regularly attend church are 35 percent less likely to divorce compared to those who have no affiliation. Nominally attending conservative Protestants are 20 percent more likely to divorce, compared to secular Americans.

via Baptist Press – FIRST-PERSON: The Christian divorce rate myth (what you’ve heard is wrong) – News with a Christian Perspective.

38%? That’s lots better than 60%, but still shockingly high, especially among the more devout believers.   35% less likely to get a divorce?  One would think it should be greater than that.   At any rate, the bottom line seems to be that the more seriously couples take their faith, the less likely they are to get a divorce.  That seems like a self-evident truth, but it appears there is also evidence for it.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • WebMonk

    I haven’t read the book, but I’ve just gone out and grabbed a couple excerpts. From that VERY tiny sampling, I think he’s doing a great thing – pointing out the extremely horrible “statistical facts” that get bandied about so frequently. I’ve looked up some of those “facts”, and universally they have either been taken wildly out of context, or were gathered from really ridiculous sorts of “research” or “polls”.

    On the other hand, though, a couple of the excerpts from Bradley Wright’s book sound suspiciously like the claims of the “facts” he is showing to be so false. From what I can tell, his research that shows families that are “regular church attenders” have lower divorce rates doesn’t even attempt to take into account anything beyond the most basic considerations of demographics – no economic consideration, no geographic consideration, etc.

    It is always easy to find a particular subset of a group that defies the trends of the group as a whole. Any study that focuses on the subset without a LOT of careful checks in place can very easily get skewed results.

  • WebMonk

    I haven’t read the book, but I’ve just gone out and grabbed a couple excerpts. From that VERY tiny sampling, I think he’s doing a great thing – pointing out the extremely horrible “statistical facts” that get bandied about so frequently. I’ve looked up some of those “facts”, and universally they have either been taken wildly out of context, or were gathered from really ridiculous sorts of “research” or “polls”.

    On the other hand, though, a couple of the excerpts from Bradley Wright’s book sound suspiciously like the claims of the “facts” he is showing to be so false. From what I can tell, his research that shows families that are “regular church attenders” have lower divorce rates doesn’t even attempt to take into account anything beyond the most basic considerations of demographics – no economic consideration, no geographic consideration, etc.

    It is always easy to find a particular subset of a group that defies the trends of the group as a whole. Any study that focuses on the subset without a LOT of careful checks in place can very easily get skewed results.

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    I’d like to see a breakdown by denomination. Or “non-denomination,” whatever the case may be.

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    I’d like to see a breakdown by denomination. Or “non-denomination,” whatever the case may be.

  • Helen F

    I think it also begs the question (as noted) how seriously one takes his/her faith in Christ. If a person has no connection to Christ through the means of grace he has established in Word and Sacraments, in what sense is one a, “Christian” ? If one is not connected to the Word of God at all, it’s to be feared that one is only deceiving him/herself in proclaiming to be a Christian, no?

  • Helen F

    I think it also begs the question (as noted) how seriously one takes his/her faith in Christ. If a person has no connection to Christ through the means of grace he has established in Word and Sacraments, in what sense is one a, “Christian” ? If one is not connected to the Word of God at all, it’s to be feared that one is only deceiving him/herself in proclaiming to be a Christian, no?

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  • Porcell

    Brad Wilcox, being a sociologist, is well aware of class effects 0n marriage, as well as the churchgoing effects. See his Christianity Today article Marriage: Marginalized in the Middle The American retreat from marriage is moving into the heart of the social order: the middle class..

  • Porcell

    Brad Wilcox, being a sociologist, is well aware of class effects 0n marriage, as well as the churchgoing effects. See his Christianity Today article Marriage: Marginalized in the Middle The American retreat from marriage is moving into the heart of the social order: the middle class..

  • WebMonk

    I’m sure he is, I just haven’t seen much evidence of it in the excerpts I’ve found.

    Like I said, they are properly poking holes in a lot of statistical “facts” bandied about, but in the couple of excerpts where the book is putting forward its own case, the phrasing seems a bit on the sensationalist side itself.

  • WebMonk

    I’m sure he is, I just haven’t seen much evidence of it in the excerpts I’ve found.

    Like I said, they are properly poking holes in a lot of statistical “facts” bandied about, but in the couple of excerpts where the book is putting forward its own case, the phrasing seems a bit on the sensationalist side itself.

  • DonS

    Webmonk and Helen make good points about this survey evidence and what it really means. The point of the article is to challenge the common canard that Christians divorce at the same general rates as non-Christians. Probably, rather than trying to defend against this canard, which is typically put forth for the purpose of calling Christians hypocrites and thus discrediting them, it should just be acknowledged that it is never about what humans do, but rather what God teaches and what His Son did for us. Divorce is wrong, not because Christians say so but because God says so. No matter what Christians do.

  • DonS

    Webmonk and Helen make good points about this survey evidence and what it really means. The point of the article is to challenge the common canard that Christians divorce at the same general rates as non-Christians. Probably, rather than trying to defend against this canard, which is typically put forth for the purpose of calling Christians hypocrites and thus discrediting them, it should just be acknowledged that it is never about what humans do, but rather what God teaches and what His Son did for us. Divorce is wrong, not because Christians say so but because God says so. No matter what Christians do.

  • steve

    The claim of a high divorce rate is actually in line with other statistics about religious faith in this country. Many Christians would like to tout the high number of Christians in the United States to support their notions of a Christian country or a Christian culture, or even the success of Christianity as a religion. But when they do that, when they lump in anyone who claims “Christian” on a census form or who says they’re Christian because they were raised in a Christian family, then they have to own the other statistics about the high rate of this or that immoral behavior among people who profess to be Christian.

    We must be honest; indeed, we are commanded to be honest. That includes the use of statistics whether those statistics support our notions or make us have to rethink them. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. This country is not as “Christian” as we would like and Christians are not as “Christian” as we would like. If we can be honest about that, maybe we can see that, far from negating the Gospel, these hard facts actually drive us back to it.

  • steve

    The claim of a high divorce rate is actually in line with other statistics about religious faith in this country. Many Christians would like to tout the high number of Christians in the United States to support their notions of a Christian country or a Christian culture, or even the success of Christianity as a religion. But when they do that, when they lump in anyone who claims “Christian” on a census form or who says they’re Christian because they were raised in a Christian family, then they have to own the other statistics about the high rate of this or that immoral behavior among people who profess to be Christian.

    We must be honest; indeed, we are commanded to be honest. That includes the use of statistics whether those statistics support our notions or make us have to rethink them. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. This country is not as “Christian” as we would like and Christians are not as “Christian” as we would like. If we can be honest about that, maybe we can see that, far from negating the Gospel, these hard facts actually drive us back to it.

  • Grace

    Porcell — 4

    Thank you for the link.

    Regarding your link – Too many young women have no compunction when telling another they are pregnant, (not married) there is no shame or embarrassment. For the most part, todays moral climate is an open cesspool, with a large number having no moral compass whatsoever – I doubt many of them understand what being a Christian means, – or they have taken another road into a ditch.

    There are many who call themselves Christian, but are unable to define it, based on Scripture. For that reason, it would be impossible to collect correct data on who was a Christian Believer, regarding their views, or lack of, or participation in a divorce.

    We know a lot of people, both Believers and unbelievers – in business, family, church affiliation – there has been only one separation, .. the great news is, they have been reunited for more than a year now, some of the worst problems eliminated – they are both Believers, she is highly educated, he has a nominal education, which hasn’t been applied to its full potential …. a great deal of prayer when up for these two, it was a difficult situation. We have not heard of one divorce for quite some time.

    I too would like to know the church affiliation for those seeking divorce, and whether or not they attend church, spend time in study and pray together. This makes a big difference in marriage. If God is the head, then it’s not a decision to divorce unless the situation is untenable.

  • Grace

    Porcell — 4

    Thank you for the link.

    Regarding your link – Too many young women have no compunction when telling another they are pregnant, (not married) there is no shame or embarrassment. For the most part, todays moral climate is an open cesspool, with a large number having no moral compass whatsoever – I doubt many of them understand what being a Christian means, – or they have taken another road into a ditch.

    There are many who call themselves Christian, but are unable to define it, based on Scripture. For that reason, it would be impossible to collect correct data on who was a Christian Believer, regarding their views, or lack of, or participation in a divorce.

    We know a lot of people, both Believers and unbelievers – in business, family, church affiliation – there has been only one separation, .. the great news is, they have been reunited for more than a year now, some of the worst problems eliminated – they are both Believers, she is highly educated, he has a nominal education, which hasn’t been applied to its full potential …. a great deal of prayer when up for these two, it was a difficult situation. We have not heard of one divorce for quite some time.

    I too would like to know the church affiliation for those seeking divorce, and whether or not they attend church, spend time in study and pray together. This makes a big difference in marriage. If God is the head, then it’s not a decision to divorce unless the situation is untenable.

  • Stephen

    I always think stats like this are pretty silly and not worth paying much attention to whether the numbers are favorable or not. It’s like proof-texting with numbers and it’s a bottomless pit. What other factors are involved? Most of the church-going Christian people I know or grew up with had married parents. Divorce was more rare. If people did divorce, they left the church in shame and no one reached out to them that I recall. Does that mean they were not Christians. Maybe these days those are the same ones on some surveys identifying as Christian, and on others not qualifying as “committed.”

    Here’s a thought – Divorced people don’t go to church as much. Ask a youth and family minister. They don’t usually see kids from divorced families and/or single parents in their work very much if at all. If the country is full of them, and so many people describe themselves as Christian, why are they NOT in church. It’s because the church does not generally work to reach out to them. I wonder if it really welcomes them much at all. The church experience is with in-tact families mostly, and maybe singles, so how does that play into those numbers you think?

    Yes, divorce is sin. Let’s not have any sinners in church. Shameful. Good thing we have favorable statistics to make Christians look good. It’s all about appearances.

  • Stephen

    I always think stats like this are pretty silly and not worth paying much attention to whether the numbers are favorable or not. It’s like proof-texting with numbers and it’s a bottomless pit. What other factors are involved? Most of the church-going Christian people I know or grew up with had married parents. Divorce was more rare. If people did divorce, they left the church in shame and no one reached out to them that I recall. Does that mean they were not Christians. Maybe these days those are the same ones on some surveys identifying as Christian, and on others not qualifying as “committed.”

    Here’s a thought – Divorced people don’t go to church as much. Ask a youth and family minister. They don’t usually see kids from divorced families and/or single parents in their work very much if at all. If the country is full of them, and so many people describe themselves as Christian, why are they NOT in church. It’s because the church does not generally work to reach out to them. I wonder if it really welcomes them much at all. The church experience is with in-tact families mostly, and maybe singles, so how does that play into those numbers you think?

    Yes, divorce is sin. Let’s not have any sinners in church. Shameful. Good thing we have favorable statistics to make Christians look good. It’s all about appearances.

  • Tom

    You have to get married before you can get divorced. If non-Christians are skipping that step, then their break-ups don’t show up in the divorce statistics.

  • Tom

    You have to get married before you can get divorced. If non-Christians are skipping that step, then their break-ups don’t show up in the divorce statistics.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    I’m too late to this discussion, but I still feel compelled to note that the only people for whom this topic is important are Culture Warriors, or people for whom Christianity is predominantly about morality and external behavior.

    Christians are sinners.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    I’m too late to this discussion, but I still feel compelled to note that the only people for whom this topic is important are Culture Warriors, or people for whom Christianity is predominantly about morality and external behavior.

    Christians are sinners.

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  • utahrainbow

    I’ve even more late to the conversation, but to echo Todd’s comment– In the last ten years, I know of at least a handful in my acquaintance that have suffered the pain of divorce that would qualify under regular church attenders. And not in “liberal” churches, either. And I know of more just outside of my acquaintance, including a homeschooling family with five children where mom left. In the wake of the devastation that sin has caused in all of this, you could not explain it away in that these people were not faithful enough Christians. Indeed, Christians are sinners. And marriage stats are not the marks of the Church.

  • utahrainbow

    I’ve even more late to the conversation, but to echo Todd’s comment– In the last ten years, I know of at least a handful in my acquaintance that have suffered the pain of divorce that would qualify under regular church attenders. And not in “liberal” churches, either. And I know of more just outside of my acquaintance, including a homeschooling family with five children where mom left. In the wake of the devastation that sin has caused in all of this, you could not explain it away in that these people were not faithful enough Christians. Indeed, Christians are sinners. And marriage stats are not the marks of the Church.

  • utahrainbow

    And we ARE hypocrites. Lord, have mercy on us poor, miserable sinners.

  • utahrainbow

    And we ARE hypocrites. Lord, have mercy on us poor, miserable sinners.

  • http://theobservationtree.blogspot.com Louis

    Todd & Utah – absolutely!!

    As I’ve grown fond of saying, the Law & the Gospel is this, namely that I’m a bastard, you are a bastard, Christ saves bastards, end of story.

  • http://theobservationtree.blogspot.com Louis

    Todd & Utah – absolutely!!

    As I’ve grown fond of saying, the Law & the Gospel is this, namely that I’m a bastard, you are a bastard, Christ saves bastards, end of story.

  • Grace

    Louis

    bastard – definition – an illegitimate child

    You may define yourself this way, but that is not a definiton which applies to me: I am a child of God, I am His, I am not “illegitimate” either in my flesh, regarding my earthly parents, or a spiritual sense. I was bought with a price, that being the LORD Jesus Christ, His body and blood on the cross – because of Him, and my faith in Him, I am born again, I have a new nature.

  • Grace

    Louis

    bastard – definition – an illegitimate child

    You may define yourself this way, but that is not a definiton which applies to me: I am a child of God, I am His, I am not “illegitimate” either in my flesh, regarding my earthly parents, or a spiritual sense. I was bought with a price, that being the LORD Jesus Christ, His body and blood on the cross – because of Him, and my faith in Him, I am born again, I have a new nature.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Grace (@15), you need a better dictionary. Or possibly to recognize that your dictionary has more than one definition per entry.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Grace (@15), you need a better dictionary. Or possibly to recognize that your dictionary has more than one definition per entry.

  • Grace

    tODD,

    Poor you – - there are more definitions, the one I used sufficed!

  • Grace

    tODD,

    Poor you – - there are more definitions, the one I used sufficed!

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Grace (@17), I appreciate your taking pity on me (and for the second time today!), but you are almost certainly using the wrong definition of “bastard”, and then using your misunderstanding to accuse someone of using the wrong word. You appear to be the only one who’s confused.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Grace (@17), I appreciate your taking pity on me (and for the second time today!), but you are almost certainly using the wrong definition of “bastard”, and then using your misunderstanding to accuse someone of using the wrong word. You appear to be the only one who’s confused.

  • WebMonk

    Merriam-Webster online definitions for bastard:
    1 n : an illegitimate child
    2 n : something that is spurious, irregular, inferior, or of questionable origin
    3 a : an offensive or disagreeable person —used as a generalized term of abuse

    Any one of those are valid uses of the word. Louis was using num 3.

  • WebMonk

    Merriam-Webster online definitions for bastard:
    1 n : an illegitimate child
    2 n : something that is spurious, irregular, inferior, or of questionable origin
    3 a : an offensive or disagreeable person —used as a generalized term of abuse

    Any one of those are valid uses of the word. Louis was using num 3.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Heck, if nitpicking word choice is what we’re up to, I could even defend Merriam-Webster’s first definition, if we are speaking metaphorically.

    After all, what does Paul call us Gentiles in Romans 11 but “wild olive shoots”, grafted into a cultivated plant? And in Romans 8, Paul says that “the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.” And, again, in Galatians 4, Paul says “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.” And again in Ephesians 1: “In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.”

    Maybe not exactly a metaphor of illegitimacy per se, but we were definitely conceived and born under shady circumstances, and only by God’s grace are we now considered his children.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Heck, if nitpicking word choice is what we’re up to, I could even defend Merriam-Webster’s first definition, if we are speaking metaphorically.

    After all, what does Paul call us Gentiles in Romans 11 but “wild olive shoots”, grafted into a cultivated plant? And in Romans 8, Paul says that “the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.” And, again, in Galatians 4, Paul says “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.” And again in Ephesians 1: “In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.”

    Maybe not exactly a metaphor of illegitimacy per se, but we were definitely conceived and born under shady circumstances, and only by God’s grace are we now considered his children.

  • http://www.oldsolar.com/currentblog.php Rick Ritchie

    When I look at other religions, I don’t think that marital statistics are likely to convince me of much. If I otherwise admire a group and their number is bad, I will probably cut them slack. If I dislike the group, I’ll probably explain the number in a negative light. (Of course they remained married. It’s better than being stoned to death in the public square!) I don’t really care about the number. I would like to know that the subject is taught on well. And I would like for outsiders to be able to see Christian families that they would like to emulate.

  • http://www.oldsolar.com/currentblog.php Rick Ritchie

    When I look at other religions, I don’t think that marital statistics are likely to convince me of much. If I otherwise admire a group and their number is bad, I will probably cut them slack. If I dislike the group, I’ll probably explain the number in a negative light. (Of course they remained married. It’s better than being stoned to death in the public square!) I don’t really care about the number. I would like to know that the subject is taught on well. And I would like for outsiders to be able to see Christian families that they would like to emulate.

  • http://www.redeemedrambling.blogspot.com/ John

    Nah, this new statistic won’t do at all for selling my new book on marriage to young Christians who are terrified of becoming a statistic. I think I’ll keep the old data, thanks.

  • http://www.redeemedrambling.blogspot.com/ John

    Nah, this new statistic won’t do at all for selling my new book on marriage to young Christians who are terrified of becoming a statistic. I think I’ll keep the old data, thanks.

  • http://billcoffin.org Bill

    And the divorce rate could be cut in half if more people had the advantages/graces offered in courses like those found here:
    http://skillswork.org

  • http://billcoffin.org Bill

    And the divorce rate could be cut in half if more people had the advantages/graces offered in courses like those found here:
    http://skillswork.org

  • Jeff

    I agree that we are indeed sinners – but let’s not forget to add, saved by Grace! Paul asked the question “What then, shall we go on sinning?” I think we all know how he answered his question. If I was in a lake and drowning and someone in a boat comes along and saves me, am I still a “drowner”? No I am saved by the grace of the boat owner. Anyway, I find it ironic that blogs like this that are intended to promote some good info are turned into a place where Christians argue and try to one up each other. Is that how grace transforms us?

  • Jeff

    I agree that we are indeed sinners – but let’s not forget to add, saved by Grace! Paul asked the question “What then, shall we go on sinning?” I think we all know how he answered his question. If I was in a lake and drowning and someone in a boat comes along and saves me, am I still a “drowner”? No I am saved by the grace of the boat owner. Anyway, I find it ironic that blogs like this that are intended to promote some good info are turned into a place where Christians argue and try to one up each other. Is that how grace transforms us?

  • b. howard

    Don’t forget to factor in that the world’s values say that
    a man and woman can just live together without being married.
    When they decide to go separate ways, they don’t need a divorce.
    So, obviously, there will be higher divorce statistics for couples who do wed and decide to separate by divorce than for those who just
    live together and then separate.

  • b. howard

    Don’t forget to factor in that the world’s values say that
    a man and woman can just live together without being married.
    When they decide to go separate ways, they don’t need a divorce.
    So, obviously, there will be higher divorce statistics for couples who do wed and decide to separate by divorce than for those who just
    live together and then separate.