Divorce rate is higher among religiously conservative Protestants, and even among those living around them, finds a new study that examined all counties in the United States where divorces occurred and looked at what the characteristics of those counties were.
Demographers Jennifer Glass at the University of Texas and Philip Levchak at the University of Iowa looked at the entire map of the United States, and found that a key factor predicting divorce rates is the concentration of conservative Protestants in a county.
To be published in the American Journal of Sociology next month, the study notes that religiously conservative states Alabama and Arkansas have the second and third highest divorce rates in the U.S., at 13 per 1000 people per year while New Jersey and Massachusetts, more liberal states, are two of the lowest at 6 and 7 per 1000 people annually.
The researchers attribute it to the earlier ages at first marriage and first birth, and the lower educational attainment and lower incomes among conservative Protestant youth.
"Restricting sexual activity to marriage and encouraging large families seem to make young people start families earlier in life, even though that may not be best for the long-term survival of those marriages," the non-profit Council on Contemporary Families, where Glass is a senior scholar, quotes the researcher as saying.
In their study titled, "Red States, Blue States, and Divorce: Understanding Regional Variation in Divorce Rates," Glass and Levchak also say that people who simply live in counties with high proportions of religious conservatives are also more likely to divorce than their counterparts elsewhere.
The researchers say this is due to a cultural climate where most people expect to marry young and there is little support from schools or community institutions for young people to get more education and postpone marriage and children.
"Pharmacies might not give out emergency contraception. Schools might only teach abstinence education," Los Angeles Times quotes Glass as saying. "If you live in a marriage market where everybody marries young, you postpone marriage at your own risk. The best catches … are going to go first."
W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia is surprised. "In some contexts in America today, religion is a buffer against divorce. But in the conservative Protestant context, this paper is showing us that it's not," he tells the Times, adding that the study also showed that more "secularism" was also linked to higher rates of divorce.