Religion and Family

Couples with higher levels of religiosity tend to invest more in their marriages, have a higher quality of marital life, a lower likelihood of divorce, and are less likely to be involved in incidents of domestic violence. More religious adolescents tend to have a higher expectation that they will be married and are more likely to disapprove of cohabitation and premarital sex.

  • Marital Adjustment. A belief in the spiritual significance of marriage was associated with marital quality. Couples who believe that marriage has spiritual significance tend to adjust more easily to marriage, experience lower levels of conflict, invest more in their relationship and collaborate more in resolving disagreements. Participating in religious activities with one’s spouse, holding views that support the sanctification of marriage, and perceiving God’s presence in one’s marriage were all correlated positively with overall marital adjustment. Higher scores (on marital sanctification and God’s presence) predicted greater investment in marriage, less frequent marital conflict, and greater collaboration to resolve disagreements.1
  • Marital Stability. Spouses’ attendance at church services is associated with marital stability. Marriages in which both husband and wife attend church frequently were 2.4 times less likely to end in divorce than marriages in which neither spouse attends religious services.2
  • Adolescents’ Prospects for Marriage. Adolescents’ religiosity was associated with their prospects for marriage. Compared with other peers, adolescents with higher levels of church attendance and higher reported salience of religion were more likely to marry and less likely to cohabit.3
  • Marriage among Mothers. On average, among urban mothers who gave birth outside marriage, those who attend religious services frequently are more likely to become married within a year of their children’s births. For urban single mothers of all races and ethnicities, frequent attendance at religious services (i.e., several times a month or more) increased the likelihood of marriage within a year of giving birth out of wedlock. Urban single mothers who frequently attended religious services were nearly two-thirds more likely to get married within a year of having a child out of wedlock than mothers who attended infrequently.4
  • Attitudes toward Cohabitation and Premarital Sex. Young adults who attended religious services frequently during adolescence are more likely to disapprove of premarital sex and cohabitation. At age 23 and 31, young adult respondents who reported frequent religious services attendance at age 18 were more likely to disapprove of premarital sex, non-marital cohabitation, and divorce compared to peers who attended less frequently. Young adults who frequently attended religious services at age 18 were also more likely to view favorably marriage and traditional family gender roles at age 23 (for marriage only) and 31 (for marriage and gender roles) compared to peers who attended religious services less frequently at age 18. The strength of the association was the strongest between religious attendance at age 18 and views on premarital sex and cohabitation at age 23 and 31.5
  • Marital Quality. The frequency of spouses’ church attendance was associated with marital satisfaction. Wives who attended religious services weekly with their husbands reported higher levels of marital happiness than peers in marriages in which neither the wife nor the husband attended services weekly.6
  • Paternal Involvement. Fathers who attend religious services frequently are more likely to be engaged with their infant children. Among fathers living in urban areas, those who more frequently attended religious services were more likely to be engaged in activities with their one-year-olds than peers who attended less frequently. Fathers who reduced the frequency of their religious attendance during the first year of their children’s lives became, on average, less engaged with their one-year-olds compared to peers who maintained their level of religious attendance.7
  • Marital Fidelity. Frequent church attendance is related to fidelity in marriage. Married individuals who attended religious services often were less likely to be unfaithful to their spouses than peers who attended less frequently.8
  • Domestic Violence. Men and women who regularly attend church services are less likely to commit an act of domestic violence. Compared with individuals who attended religious services only once a year or less, those who attended church regularly (at least once a week) were less likely to commit an act of violence against their partners. Regular attendance at religious services reduced the odds of perpetrating domestic violence by half for women and for men.9
  • Youths’ Expectation of Marriage. Adolescents’ religiosity is related to their marital expectations. Teens who considered religion important in their lives were more likely to report expecting marriage (and marriage without prior cohabitation) in their future compared to youths who considered religion less important. Religious youths were also less likely to expect to cohabit in their future than peers who considered religion to be less important.10

Footnotes

  1. A. Mahoney, K.I. Pargament, T. Jewell, A.B. Swank, E. Scott, E. Emery, and M. Rye, “Marriage and the Spiritual Realm: The Role of Proximal and Distal Religious Constructs in Marital Functioning,” Journal of Family Psychology 13, No. 3 (1999): 321-338.
  2. Vaughn R. A. Call and Tim B. Heaton, “Religious Influence on Marital Stability,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 36, No. 3 (September 1997): 382-392.
  3. David Eggebeen and Jeffrey Dew, “The Role of Religion in Adolescence for Family Formation in Young Adulthood,” Journal of Marriage and Family 71, (February 2009): 108-121.
  4. Bradford W. Wilcox and Nicholas Wolfinger, “Then Comes Marriage? Religion, Race, and Marriage in Urban America,” Social Science Research 63, No. 2 (June 2007): 569-589.
  5. Lisa D. Pearce “Religious Identity and Family Ideologies in the Transitions to Adulthood,” Journal of Marriage and Family 69, No. 4 (December 2007): 1227-1234.
  6. Bradford W. Wilcox and Steven Nock, “What’s Love Got to Do with It?: Equality, Equity, Commitment and Women’s Marital Quality,” Social Forces 84, No. 3 (March 2006): 1321-1345.
  7. Richard J. Petts, “Religious Participation, Religious Affiliation, and Engagement with Children among Fathers Experiencing the Birth of a New Child,” Journal of Family Issues 28, No. 9 (September 2007): 1139-1161.
  8. A. M. Burdette, C. G. Ellison, D. E. Sherkat, and K. A. Gore, “Are There Religious Variations in Marital Infidelity?“ Journal of Family Issues 28, No. 1 (2007): 1553-1581.
  9. Christopher G. Ellison, John P. Bartkowski, and Kristin L. Anderson, “Are There Religious Variations in Domestic Violence?” Journal of Family Issues 20, (1997): 87-113.
  10. Wendy D. Manning, “The Changing Institution of Marriage: Adolescents’ Expectation to Cohabit and to Marry,” Journal of Marriage and Family 69, (August 2007): 559-575.