Though conservative Protestants across the board say they are against divorce, there is a marked difference between the divorce rates in conservative Protestant red states and blue states researchers out of the University of Texas at Austin found. This research goes against the common assumption that fervent religious belief strengthens marriage. Arkansas and Alabama, the third and second most religiously conservative states have the highest divorce rates in the country. By contrast Massachusetts and New Jersey have the lowest rates, only about six or seven percent per one thousand people annually. The American Journal of Sociology will publish an article soon regarding a joint study conducted by the University of Iowa’s Philip Levchak along with University of Texas demographer Jennifer Glass where these results were discovered. Levchak and Glass painstakingly went through each county in the United States examining the divorce rate in each in the year 2,000. The divorce rate was calculated per 1,000 married couples. The traits of the county examined were also recorded. The concentration of conservative or evangelical Protestants in the county researchers found was a predictor of the divorce rate in that county. Though researchers have come up with this population as a predictor of a county’s divorce rate, it’s still unclear as to why. Researchers have a few ideas.
Some experts say it has nothing to do with being part of a certain religious affiliation but more to do with poverty. These happen to be concentrated in the rural South, a region with high rates of poverty and wages far lower than the national average. It is poverty they argue that contributes to divorce and their religion has nothing to do with it. There are other scholars who think that the dogma of this religious group that cohabitation is a sin makes people get married earlier, perhaps before they are ready which leads therefore to a higher divorce rate. The relationships they argue are unstable, the couple doesn’t know each other well enough and hasn’t developed the necessary communication and coping skills and so these marriages are more volatile this argument goes. In the Glass Levchak study, this factor had no weight. These researchers say, cohabitation has nothing to do with it. Some experts posited that perhaps a tolerance for increased violence within married relationships was a factor, but the Levchak and Glass study recounts that as a fallacy as well. Levchak and Glass explain that lower income, lower education, earlier marriage and an earlier first birth are the contributing factors that connect religious conservatism and a high divorce rate. Glass elaborated by saying, “Restricting sexual activity to marriage and encouraging large families seem to make young people start families earlier in life, even though that may not be best for the long-term survival of those marriages.”
University of Illinois at Chicago economist Evelyn Lehrer wrote a report earlier to the Council of Contemporary Families saying that every year a woman puts off marriage until her early thirties, she decreases her chances of suffering a divorce at some point. Another result of the Glass Levchak study however was that those merely living in conservative religious areas had a higher propensity for divorce. It turns out that no matter what background young people are from, they are influenced by the social climate in which they live, researchers say. In areas where people get married and have children young there is no outside support from social institutions or schools to put off marriage and kids. Further education and job training take a back seat to marriage and child rearing. Those marriages too that start from a pregnancy that wasn’t planned also have a higher chance of divorcing according to senior fellows Philip Cowan and Carolyn Cowan at the Council on Contemporary Families. The CCF’s and Leher’s report discuss the benefits of putting off marriage and having children until the couple is sufficiently educated and trained to have access to a quality career in order to support themselves and the children they will have. People in these counties should pressure their elected leaders to do more to provide student loans, business and job training to the young people of these areas, so that they can support their families and preserve their historic way of life. They should also put pressure on the federal government and others to enact more programs to help the poor help themselves out of poverty. On another front, one of the biggest things couples fight about is money. If you are getting married or cohabitating with someone, talk about money without any shame or blame. Establish rules. Start healthy habits. Find ways to cut down on expenses and even save a little for the future, even if it’s just pennies every check it helps. For more pick up a copy of, Money and Marriage: A Complete Guide for Engaged and Newly Married Couples by Matt Bell.