Religion and divorce rate

By: BA Robinson

The effect of religion itself on marriage stability

The slogan “The family that prays together, stays together” is often seen on billboards and magazine advertisements. But this may not be accurate:

There has been much anecdotal evidence that has led to “unsubstantiated claims that the divorce rate for Christians who attended church regularly, pray together or who meet other conditions is only 1 or 2 percent. 2

A recent study by the Barna Research Group throws extreme doubt on these estimates. Barna released the results of their poll about divorce on 1999-DEC-21. 4 It was based on interviews of 3,854 adults from the 48 contiguous states. The sampling error is within 2 percentage points. The survey found:

Divorce rates among born-again Christians were much higher at 27 percent than for other Christian faith groups.

Atheists and Agnostics have the lowest divorce rate of all: 21 percent.

Divorce rates among Jews were highest of any religion sampled. In order of decreasing divorce rates were: born-again Christians, other Christians, and Atheists/Agnostics. More information.

Dr. Tom Ellis, chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Council on the Family said that for truly “…born-again Christian couples who marry…in the church after having received premarital counseling…and attend church regularly and pray daily together…” experience only 1 divorce out of nearly 39,000 marriages — or 0.00256 percent. He doubts the accuracy of the Barna poll, noting that “Just saying you are Christian is not going to guarantee that your marriage is going to stay together.” One must make a full commitment to God. 3 [Emphasis ours]

Why is the religious factor so destabilizing?

Scientific beliefs are generally based on observation and experimentation. Opinions can be debated and resolved. The idea with the best supporting evidence wins.  However, religious beliefs tend to be based on faith. For most people, their religious beliefs are an accident of birth: those born in Saudi Arabia will almost certainly mature to be Muslim adults; those born in Alabama will most likely become a Fundamentalist or other Evangelical Christian. Whatever religion they grow up with is liable to determine their faith for the rest of their life. This can produce serious problems when two spouses come from different religious traditions:

An inter-faith couple typically follows a pair of religions that teach very different beliefs and practices about deity, humanity and the rest of the universe. Conflicts are not easily resolved. Many people believe that their religious beliefs were revealed by one or more Gods and/or Goddesses, and are thus absolutely true. Further, they believe that other religions were invented by humans and are thus lacking in validity. There is often no room to compromise without one spouse giving up some of their beliefs.

Irresolvable conflicts often occur in intra-faith marriages as well. Although both spouses follow the same religion and revere the same religious text, their two denominations generally have different interpretations of important passages. Even within the conservative wing of Christianity, there is a range of beliefs about important religious topics. Both InterVarsity Press and Zondervan publish a series of books in which leading Evangelical Christian theologians explain their personal views on a specific topic, and critique each others beliefs. Each of the authors believes that their own belief is biblically based. Yet, their conclusions are at variance with each other. If theologians cannot resolve differences, it is doubtful that two spouses can.

Inter-faith marriage divorce data and opinions:

Vera Lawlor, from The Bergen Record in Hakensack, NJ., wrote that inter-faith marriages have a failure rate that is 50% higher than same-faith marriages. She does not cite a source for this datum. Since the rate for all marriages is on the order of 50%, this would imply an almost 75% failure rate for inter-faith marriages – 3 chances out of 4. 5

Emmanual Clapsis writes: “Controversy abounds on the topic of survival rates, but the best studies show a higher survival rate for single faith marriages than interfaith marriages”  This may be due to differences in marital satisfaction. He states that several unidentified studies agree that religiously mixed marriages are less satisfying than single-faith marriages. 6 One was a nationwide survey conducted in the 1970’s. One factor may be that when spouses follow separate religious traditions, an opportunity for companionship is reduced. 

Esther Perel, an inter- faith marital therapist, referring to Jewish – Christian marriages wrote in New York Magazine: “The difference isn’t just between Moses and Christ. You’re dealing with issues of money, sex, education, child-rearing practices, food, family relationships, styles of emotional expressiveness, issues of autonomy — all of these are culturally embedded.7

A 1993 study published in Demography showed that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) were the least likely of all faith groups to divorce: After five years of marriage, only 13% of LDS couples had divorced. But when a Mormon marries a non-Mormon, the divorce rate was found to have increased more than three-fold to 40%. Similar data for Jews were 27% and 42%. 8

Egon Mayer, a professor at Brooklyn College, published another study confirming that inter-faith couples experience higher divorce rates. Referring to the case where one spouse abandons their religion and adopts their spouse’s faith, he said in USA Today: “When you bury something that is really important to you, all you’re doing is building up a kind of pressure within the family relationship, which becomes a source of tension, which ultimately becomes a time bomb. If there’s any reason why intermarriages break up, it’s because of that time bomb.7

An encouraging word:

One problem with these studies is that they tend to lump all “mixed” marriages together, and report on the overall results. An exception is a study of intra-faith Christian marriages by Michael Lawlor of the Creighton University Center for Marriage and Family in Omaha NE. He concluded that: “Denominational differences don’t cause breakups. It depends on what the couple does together religiously and how they deal with differences. If they can fashion a shared religious life, their marriages will be as stable as any same-church marriage.”

The Creighton University study found that divorce rates among Christian couples who were raised in different denominations were:

Six percent for couples who affiliated with a single church.

Fourteen percent for non-intra-faith couples — those who were raised in the same denomination and stayed in the same church as a married couple.

Twenty percent for spouses, each of whom retained their affiliation with different churches. 9

These results can be interpreted in at least two ways:

Stability in an intra-faith marriage will be improved if both spouses decide to become affiliated with a single denomination. Such marriages are more prone to fail if spouses continued to go to their original churches.

A couple who is not intensely committed to one denomination or another is liable to have fewer conflicts and thus a lower probability of divorce. They will easily compromise on a single denomination to attend. Those who are devoted to their original denominations will experience more marital conflicts and are thus more liable to divorce.

How to avoid divorce:

We offer no firm suggestions, only hunches:

Be realistic: Although about 100% of all engaged couples are positive that their marriage will last, the ugly fact is that about half fail. Marriages between spouses from different faith traditions, whether inter-faith or intra-faith, most probably fail. We recommend extensive pre-marital counseling. Breaking off an engagement is a gut-wrenching experience; terminating a marriage (particularly one with children) is a lot worse.

Tackle the inter-faith problems directly: Don’t sweep them under the table. Don’t assume that you will resolve differences sometime after you get married. Pre-marital problems generally grow into “Hindenburg class disasters” after marriage. They need to be settled while you are still engaged. Love does not necessarily conquer all. Consider:

Trying to assess how important each spouse’s religious traditions are.

Explaining your religious needs to each other.

Studying your own, and your spouse’s faith traditions.

Whether you will worship together or apart.

Whether you will accept your spouse’s faith or try to change them to your own.

How you will support your religious institution(s) financially.

How to handle the children’s religious education.

How to handle any rejection on the part of the two religious institutions towards inter-faith marriage ceremonies, child rearing, etc.

Whether you can expect much flak from in-laws over religion.

Consider the in-laws: Parents have more life experience and can sometimes assess potential problems more accurately than the couple can. However, if they are strongly opposed to the marriage, and you are really committed to your relationship, then you might have to decide where your priorities lie. You may decide to give an ultimatum to one or both sets of parents.

Plan in advance: Waiting until after the birth of the first child is not the best time to decide whether to ritually circumcise him (as a Jew), or baptize her or him (as a Christian), or to welcome a child with a Wiccaning ritual (into a Wiccan tradition), or to not engage in a ritual at all.

Respect the faiths that you were raised in: Try to weave into your marriage ceremony elements from both your parents’ faiths. This may mean that you will have to go shopping for the right celebrant(s). Sometimes it is possible to have two clergy officiating. Some couples even go to the extreme of having two ceremonies.

Consider taking an inter-faith tour: Interfaith tours are becoming increasingly popular, particularly in Israel. Jewish, Christian, and sometimes Muslim participants get a taste of each others’ religious traditions by exploring holy and historically significant sites, with the leaders putting these places in ecumenical context.10,11


Communicate more.

Communicate still more.


Most of the data seems to show that religious differences within inter-faith and intra-faith marriages is a major contributor to marriage breakdown. If nothing else, it at least should impress on a couple entering such a relationship that they need to pay close attention to resolving religious difference.

The author recalls asking a young woman for a second date, some four decades ago. She turned him down. Her reason is that she was a Roman Catholic, and that it was her policy to never date a non-Catholic more than once. Perhaps she had a good idea.


  1. Divorce statistics collection: Summary of findings so far,” Americans for Divorce Reform, at:
  2. Fresh Thinking Needed on Divorce Issues,” Jesus Journal, at:
  3. John Rossomando, “Born-Again Christians No More Immune to Divorce Than Others, Says Author,” CNSNews, at:
  4. Christians are more likely to experience divorce than are non-Christians,” Barna Research Group, 1999-DEC-21, at:
  5. Vera Lawlor, “Is it OK for those of different faiths to wed?,” The Bergen Record, Hakensack, NJ., 1999-MAR-11. See:
  6. Emmanual Clapsis, “The challenge posed by mixed marriages,” at:
  7. Quoted in: “Dating strategies: Why not intermarry,”, at:
  8. Bob Mims, “Mormons: high conservativism, low divorce, big growth – 3/99,” Salt Lake Tribune, 1999-MAR-6, at:
  9. Interfaith Marriages Lead to More Divorce, Study Says,” Associated Press, at:
  10. Judi Dash, “Tripping the faith fantastic: Religious pilgrimages take travel to soulful heights,” at:
  11. Interfaith Tours organizes tours which “explore the spiritual and historical roots of Christianity and Judaism in the land where both religions were born.” See:

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One Comment

  1. Matiwose
    Posted October 25, 2015 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    I find the answers to the problems i face please send me more quotes, solutions

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