Though conservative Christians bemoan the crumbling institution of marriage, scientific study suggests religious conservatism may actually lead to increased divorce rates. Those areas in the United States with a large population of hard-line Christians also see divorce rates above the national average.
A simple look at the information makes it seem like cause and effect, but the data suggests something more complex. Conservative Christians themselves don’t seem to see divorce rates above the mean. Similar correlations exist in voter turnout; states which vote Republican tend to have larger voter turnout among blacks, even though we know blacks tend to vote democrat.
The root of this parallel between divorce rates and conservative Christianity may be what June Carbanda and Naomi Cahn and call the “red state family pattern.” Couples in conservative America tend to marry younger, have less education, or have other risk factors for divorce. But this red state family pattern doesn’t seem to be the main culprit.
Another hypothesis, published by researchers Jennifer Glass and Phillip Levchak in the American Journal of Sociology, is that Conservatism’s emphasis on marriage creates a scarcity in marriageable partners. In the parlance of supply and demand, Glass and Levchak posit conservatives push younger people into marriage. This leaves less marriageable partners for the rest of the population. In order to find partners, others in the community in turn marry younger. This chain reaction, started by conservative Christianity, leads to hurried, low-quality marriages and higher divorce rates. The study suggests Conservative Christianity’s emphasis on abstinence and anti-abortion sexual habits also directly correlates into a higher number of hurried, low-quality marriages.
This increase in divorce rates isn’t endemic to conservative Protestants. Even non-religious people in Evangelical communities see the same scarcity of marriageable partners, leading to higher divorce rates, regardless of religion.