Is Conservative Christianity Bad for Marriage?

I read this on another blog site,  but copied it from its source,

I think this goes hand in hand with some of the other subjects we’ve been discussing.


Research says yes. So why are conservative policy makers pushing marriage as a panacea for poverty?

Wedding ring

(Reuters/Michaela Rehle)

We’ve long known that, in general, the parts of the country most obsessed by family values are also the most beset by family breakdown. Crimson-red Southern states like Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas have the highest rates of divorce, while the liberal, decadent Northeast has the lowest. People have tried to explain this phenomenon in a number of ways. Some conservatives argue that the Northeast has low divorce rates only because it has low marriage rates, too. Others suggest that it’s all about class—in addition to being conservative, the South is poor, and poverty is linked to family dysfunction. “It’s a puzzling paradox,” says Jennifer Glass, a sociologist at the University of Texas. “These are places where you would expect the reverence for marriage and social disapproval for divorce to keep couples together.”

Working with Philip Levchak of the University of Iowa, Glass set out to investigate this paradox. Examining America county by county, they found that, even controlling for income, education and rates of nonmarital cohabitation, the link between conservative Protestantism and divorce remains. It looks as if right-wing Christianity itself undermines modern marriage.

“Conservative religious beliefs and the social institutions they create, on balance, decrease marital stability through the promotion of practices that increase divorce risk in the contemporary United States,” Glass and Levchak write in a new paper, “Red States, Blue States, and Divorce: Understanding the Impact of Conservative Protestantism on Regional Variation in Divorce Rates,” which will appear in the next issue of the American Journal of Sociology. Ironically, the very practices meant to shore up marital security in conservative communities end up sabotaging it. By promoting abstinence until marriage, these communities encourage people to marry young. Poor sex education and limited access to contraception for teenagers lead to unintended pregnancies and shotgun weddings. Gender-role traditionalism leads to single-earner families with precarious finances.

Further, Glass and Levchak write, “the effects of personal and community-level conservative Protestant affiliation are additive, meaning that conservative Protestants in strongly conservative Protestant counties have higher divorce risks than conservative Protestants in mainline dominant counties.”

These findings are surprising, since other social science research suggests that couples who attend church together are more likely to stay married. Glass doesn’t dispute this: “Religious belief in general is a good thing for married couples as a shared activity,” she says. But her work suggests that the positives of shared faith fail to outweigh the negatives of fundamentalist culture.

According to their paper, it’s not just believers who are affected—simply living in an area with lots of right-wing evangelicals makes divorce more likely, because the prevailing community norms and institutions affect everyone. The more powerful Christian conservatives get, the worse the problem becomes. “One plausible interpretation of the results is that as conservative Protestant presence increases, elite conservative Protestant influence grows stronger, which results in policies and programs that do little to reduce divorce, but only increase early marriage,” write Glass and Levchak.

“One of the things that happens is that early marriage and parenthood in particular are bad times for very young women to be entering the labor force,” says Glass. “They withdraw from the labor force and withdraw from schooling to take care of their kids.” Meanwhile, she says, “it’s become very, very difficult for young men to support an entire family. Families that are formed early have a really difficult time making ends meet with the human resources they have at their disposal.”

At a time when Republicans are promoting marriage as a panacea for poverty, these findings have important policy implications. Recently, in a speech given to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the War on Poverty, Florida Senator Marco Rubio said, “The truth is, the greatest tool to lift children and families from poverty is one that decreases the probability of child poverty by 82 percent. But it isn’t a government program. It’s called marriage.” Kathleen Parker published aWashington Post column headlined “To Defeat Poverty, Look to Marriage.” Ari Fleischer, George W. Bush’s former press secretary, weighed in with “How to Fight Income Inequality: Get Married,” in The Wall Street Journal.

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Now, marriage can be great—that’s why liberals spend so much time fighting for marriage equality. But encouraging people to get married before they’re ready and encouraging them to put off having sex until they wed is a recipe for family instability. “Clearly you can’t put people with few relationship skills and few resources together at a really young age and saddle them with children and expect them to survive,” says Glass.

The blue state model—marriage is delayed; responsible premarital sex is approved—simply works better. That means emphasizing sex education and access to contraception and abortion while letting go of the fantasy of the male-breadwinner family. It means accepting that abstinence until marriage wouldn’t be a useful goal even it was realistic. It means realizing, once and for all, that conservative family values don’t work to conserve actual families.

Read Next: Adam Federman on how US evangelists are influencing Russian law.

Michelle Goldberg

January 22, 2014   |    This article appeared in the February 10, 2014 edition of The Nation.

Categories: Uncategorized | 11 Comments

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11 thoughts on “Is Conservative Christianity Bad for Marriage?

  1. The US seems to be more divided in a religious sense North/South than many if not all of its European Counterparts.

    I wonder if this phenomenon exists in other countries?


  2. Probably not, Ark. We had our Civil War 150 years ago which pitted North against South with one of the main issues being Slavery. Strange as it seems, the South wanted to keep slavery even though the Southern States seemed to have more “Cryspians” as you like to call them. They felt slavery was their “god given right” and quoted scripture to back it up.

    To this day “The South” continues to be more “cryspian” than the North.


    • Funny that, how the Christians can find a verse for very occasion. Bit like the local florist!
      Well South Africa had Apartheid and that was sanctioned by the Afrikaans church , the NGK.


  3. I tried to use a verse when I was married that Soloman had 900 wives and 300 concubines so what was wrong with me having 2 or 3 girlfriends . I’ve been divorced 27 years now. 🙂


  4. This would be based on personal experience, but I’d say that, yes it is bad for marriage.

    “How to Fight Income Inequality: Get Married,”

    Senator Marco Rubio said, “The truth is, the greatest tool to lift children and families from poverty is one that decreases the probability of child poverty by 82 percent. But it isn’t a government program. It’s called marriage.”

    Heh…I thought those women were referred to so affectionately as gold diggers. 😉


  5. “Heh…I thought those women were referred to so affectionately as gold diggers. 😉 ”

    Your assessment would be hard to argue against 🙂


  6. I got married right out of high school (very dumb) and was not a very good husband. The only smart thing I / We did was wait 6 years before we had any children. After 15 years of marriage, I fired myself as a husband, but concentrated on being a good father knowing that was a life time job (or should be).

    Fortunately it paid off and I have been able to maintain a very close relationship with my 2 daughters. I’ve learned that sometimes we are failures but we can also have success. No one has to be a total failure.

    Not sure why I wrote this, but it happened to be on my mind. 🙂


    • The fact that you can admit this, even to yourself, is remarkable. It’s great you’ve been able to maintain a close relationship with your children. A lot of people in this situation are not able to do so – for a variety of reasons.


  7. Thanks for your kind words , Ruth. 🙂


  8. Oh, and IMHO(probably because I am divorced), doesn’t make a person a failure. Sometimes it means they’ve grown and learned a few things about themselves along the way. 🙂


  9. As JohnZ would say, “Ramen” 🙂


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