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The study also found religious attitudes emphasizing traditional gender roles in raising families influenced labor market choices. Forty-three percent of married mothers from conservative Protestant denominations were not employed, compared to 28 percent of mothers from mainline Protestant denominations.
Yet, weighed against the religious capital accrued through their faith, it is a sacrifice many Americans are willing to make.
Paying the price
In examining General Social Survey data from 1972 to 2010, Hollar found decreasing rates of marriage across the board, but “a much more rapid drop-off” among those with lower ties to religion.
At any given age, Hollar found, “devout men are approximately 9.4 percent more likely to have married than non-devout men, and devout women are approximately 4.4 percent more likely to have married than non-devout women.”
Similarly, frequent church attenders were much less likely to divorce, Hollar reported.
“Religion has a very positive effect on family. It has a very positive effect on strengthening marriage and reducing the possibility of divorce,” Hollar noted.
And the sense of satisfaction is not just in the United States.
A study of adults in Great Britain, the Netherlands, Spain, Northern Ireland and Sweden found religious affiliation, religious attendance and marriage were all associated with greater happiness and satisfaction in life.
“Taken together, these three conclusions provide support among the people of contemporary Europe for Durkheim’s classic thesis linking the two institutions of marriage and religion with human flourishing,” researchers Emyr Williams, Leslie Francis and Andrew Village wrote in the journal of Mental Health, Religion and Culture.
That does not mean the pressures on marriage are going away. The wider array of choices available to women as their incomes rise and continued economic uncertainty among young adults, along with the greater acceptance of alternatives such as cohabitation and single-parent families, are having a significant impact.
But the potential financial costs or benefits are not all that matters in why people decide to get and stay married. Religious beliefs, including the idea of being part of a divinely ordained union, also can make a major difference.
The Opinion section is produced by the Editorial Department to foster discussion about key issues. The Editorial Board represents the institutional voice of the Star Tribune and operates independently of the newsroom.