Evangelical context may contribute to divorce, says Baylor sociologist

Analysis suggests that early marriage contributes to conservative Protestants divorcing at higher rates than most other Americans.

By Jeff Brumley

It’s been known for years that American conservative Protestants divorce at the same or higher rates than either more moderate Christians or those of no religious affiliation at all. But a Baylor University professor said sociologists are getting closer to understanding why.

One of the prevailing theories, appearing in journals and other studies, is that conservative evangelicals tend to be in lower income brackets, opening them up to higher levels of marital stress and to the likelihood of divorce, said Jerry Park, associate professor of sociology at Baylor.

Park recently compiled 50 years of research data on religious changes and trends, including the rise of the so-called “nones” (Americans of no religious affiliation), gender and race issues and divorce rates among believers.

Park told ABPnews/Herald that it was no surprise to find that divorce rates among evangelicals exceed other portions of U.S. society, including those with no stated faith at all.

JerryParkmugBut new analytical tools and a new generation of sociologists are beginning to show that economic factors may be behind those numbers.

“What they’re asking is, is there something about evangelical culture that contributes to socio-economic position?” Park said.

There are some trending theories, he said. Values and practices common to conservative Protestants, such as early marriage and women with lower levels of education, contribute to lower earning ability.

“There’s an indirect effect between the culture of promoting early marriage ... that may affect lower socio-economic mobility, which may increase the likelihood of divorce,” Park said.