Study Examines Why ‘Red’ States Have Higher Divorce Rates

Though seemingly paradoxical, a new study conducted by the University of Texas and the University of Iowa suggests that the divorce rate is higher among religiously conservative Protestants even though this demographic values the institution of marriage.

Researchers found that there were a couple of factors tied to conservative Protestant marriage that could be causing the high divorce rates. They said because conservative Protestants tend to marry and have children earlier in life, it can thwart higher education and earning capacities, thus putting extra strain on the marriage and eventually causing divorce.

The director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia called the results of the study “surprising.” He said that “[i]n some contexts in America today, religion is a buffer against divorce. But in the conservative Protestant context, this paper is showing us that it’s not.”

Researchers at the two universities set out to discover why divorce is more prevalent in religiously conservative “red” states by comparing county divorce statistics with religious congregation data that had been gathered from a previous study. Protestant denominations that believe the Bible is literally true were categorized as “conservative Protestants.”

The researchers found that divorce was not only more common among conservative Protestants, but also non-Protestants who lived among many conservative Protestants. A University of Texas at Austin professor said the reason for this could be that these communities favor early marriage and childbearing, which results in a higher divorce rate for all.

For example, she said that if you live in an area where everyone marries young, you are more likely to marry young, too, in order to snag one of the “best catches.” Additionally, community institutions such as pharmacies and schools may promote abstinence, which lowers the average childbearing age.

Interestingly, the professor also noted that the divorce rate was also higher among populations that were “secular,” or don’t follow religious traditions and beliefs.

Source: Los Angeles Times, “More religiously conservative Protestants? More divorce, study finds,” Emily Alpert Reyes, Jan. 17, 2014

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