Let's talk about facts this election - Part VI - Family Values

A certain segment of the US population is obsessed with "family values" and the "culture wars". This has been on full display ever since Sarah Palin was nominated as McCain VP. But let's face it, the facts are often at odds with the religious right's core beliefs. This idea that the country's problems have to do with a lack of "family values" and the spread of "liberal, secular ideals" is wrong on so many levels.

So where to start? Well I'm here to point out some facts. And here's one for you: divorce correlates with religiosity. Yes it's true, the more religious you are the more likely you are to get a divorce. That's the facts. From a famous study from the Barna group:

Religion, % have been divorced

Jews 30%
Born-again Christians 27%
Other Christians 24%
Atheists, Agnostics 21%

You can look at this by region too. The Bible belt is the nation's capitol of divorce. The place with the lowest divorce rate? The Northeast:

Area, % are or have been divorced
South 27%
Midwest 27%
West 26%
Northeast 19%

The Barna group, a pro-religious entity whose vision is "To provide leadership and unique, strategic information and resources that help facilitate spiritual transformation in America" no longer has these numbers available on its website. But they are all over the web (infact I've posted about these stats before).

And in case you think this was one study or a fluke, the AP had a follow up study. From the Boston Globe:

The AP report stated that 'the divorce rates in these conservative states are roughly 50 percent above the national average of 4.2 per thousand people.' The 10 Southern states with some of the highest divorce rates were Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas. By comparison nine states in the Northeast were among those with the lowest divorce rates: Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

So what is the meaning of all these facts? If religious conservatives think that they will cure all of America's problems by legislating morality, they should first take a look at themselves. It would seem places where religious tolerance is practiced (including the tolerance of atheists) are the places that have some of the best "moral" indicators. So instead of supporting initiatives such as banning gay marriage or having the Ten Commandments displaced in a public place let's focus on real issues like education and healthcare. Promoting religiously-based "family values" will clearly have no impact on improving the lives of all those out there who are really struggling.

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But is that the whole picture? What happens when you look at 'living together' and these same demographics? I suspect that there is an inverse relationship between religion and living together.

Could it be that there is no difference in the failure rates of monogamous relationships, it is that that religious individuals are more likely to have gotten married before their relationships fell apart?

It would also be interesting to look at the rate of teen pregnancy and single parenthood in these same regions.

As for the suggestion that living together and religion might be correlated, the Washington Post reported a different correlation:

"As marriage with children becomes an exception rather than the norm, social scientists say it is also becoming the self-selected province of the college-educated and the affluent. The working class and the poor, meanwhile, increasingly steer away from marriage, while living together and bearing children out of wedlock."


Also, an unyielding anti-abortion position is not really compatible with a broad pro-family platform. After all, this kind of extremist "pro-life" position does not work unless you also de-stigmatize teen pregnancy and out-of-wedlock birth.

I'm no fan of the religious right, but I suspect that the low divorce rate among atheists and agnostics results from a lower marriage rate.

By Miles Gloriosus (not verified) on 10 Sep 2008 #permalink

"I'm no fan of the religious right, but I suspect that the low divorce rate among atheists and agnostics results from a lower marriage rate."

That's part of the point, religion teaches people to get married BEFORE they have the time to figure out if their partner is right for them. That whole "Sex is a sin if your aren't married" thing...

Hyperchristian hypocrisy explains much of this, but does anybody have any ideas as to why Jews apparently lead the divorce stats?

By Pierce R. Butler (not verified) on 10 Sep 2008 #permalink


Where do you get the idea that atheists and agnostics have a lower marriage rate? Are there statistics on the never-marrieds - who they are and where they live?

Rev. Matt -

You sexist bastard. Don't you know McCain was a POW? Calling Palin a pig like that... disgusting.

By AtheistAcolyte (not verified) on 10 Sep 2008 #permalink

Being a Jew doesn't necessarily equate with being a Judaist. Some might find it objectionable that you list "Jews" as though it's a religion. Not all Jews are Judaists and not all Judaists are Jews. You might want to make that distinction in future blogs.

Fascists and humanists and equally aware of this fact: the economic shock will present opportunities to advance their respective causes. Which will win: the side with the big hearts, or the side with the big guns?

By bedava porno (not verified) on 28 Dec 2008 #permalink