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The Latest Divorce and Religion Study

researchers study divorce and religionAs Sinatra crooned into the microphone all those years ago, love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage; divorce, however, rides on the back of the carriage like a footman. This sinister footman has been the topic of debate since the 1970′s saw a huge surge in divorce, and now that debate has moved onto the relationship divorce has with religion.

Previously, research held that children of divorced parents were less religious in adulthood because of the divorce. But what about all the other contributing factors in a person’s religious beliefs? This is the question Jeremy Uecker, an assistant professor of sociology at Baylor, and Christopher Ellison, a researcher at University of Texas, asked in their study called “Parental Divorce, Parental Religious Characteristics, and Religious Outcomes in Adulthood.”

Structure of the Study

The study used data from surveys from 1991, 1998, and 2008 catalogued in the General Social Surveys. The surveys were conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. 3,346 people of various faiths, between the ages 18 and 87 answered questions about their family life, religious affiliation, and personal beliefs.

After Ellison analyzed the data, Uecker analyzed the answers to the survey. The team found children of divorce do tend to avoid organized religion, but the cause may be more attributed to their parent’s pre-existing religious beliefs and practices rather than solely their parent’s divorce.

The Findings

“You have to take into account the context,” Uecker explains. “People who are less religious are more likely to get divorced. And if the parents are of different religions or differing levels of religiosity from one another, they also are more likely to divorce. So if we ignore that, we’re overstating the effects of divorce itself on religious outcomes.”

As support for Uecker and Ellison’s findings, the data proves divorce has no effect on a person’s spirituality and private religious practices, like praying.

What it All Means

As noted in the study, the majority of young adults today identify themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” We’re not entirely sure what that means to each individual, but it does indicate the majority of people are not spiritually destroyed by their parents divorce. According to the researchers, the leading cause of children losing their faiths is the loss of religious socialization.

After a divorce, single parents may feel unaccepted in church, so attendance drops; or, it may be as simple as a single parent’s schedule makes it harder to attend church regularly. Whatever the case, the researchers are not concerned about the children’s well-being.

In the study, the researchers state: “The emotional effects or feelings of sacred loss may well be felt and consequential during childhood and adolescence. In the long run, however, these emotional responses are less consequential.”

The relationship between humans and their beliefs is a truly complex one, which Ellison and Uecker sought to bring to light. This study is not meant to alter our perception of divorce and religion, it is just meant to correct another study’s published findings.

What are your thoughts on the complex relationship marriage, divorce, and religion?

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