Fifty years ago, religious marriage ceremonies were the norm. Most people got married to someone who shared their faith, and just a small fraction of husbands and wives were in relationships where no one practiced a religion.
That trend, according to the latest American National Family Life Survey, is now on the decline as the influence of religion in society has been progressively fading.
The survey of 5,030 adults nationwide was designed and conducted by the American Enterprise Institute between Nov. 23–Dec. 14, 2021.
It found that while 81% of couples who got married before 1972 wed someone of the same faith, only 52% of couples who got married in the last decade reported being in same-faith marriages. Over the same period, secular marriages also grew from 3% to 16% of all marriages.
At least 40 years ago, some 72% of Americans reported having a religious wedding ceremony with a religious leader presiding. However, some 49% of the weddings recorded in the last decade alone were secular.
“Newly married couples are eschewing religious wedding ceremonies that connect them to existing traditions and communities, preferring instead celebrations that reflect their own personal tastes and preferences,” said the study’s author Daniel A. Cox, who is a senior fellow in polling and public opinion at the American Enterprise Institute and the director of the Survey Center on American Life.
Just 46% of Americans who are married today report that they were married by a religious leader in a church or other religious setting. Some 16% said they were married by a religious leader in a secular setting, while another 36% said their wedding was entirely secular.
“Only 30% of Americans who were married within the past decade report having their ceremony in a church, house of worship or other religious location and officiated by a religious leader,” the study said.
Interfaith marriage — a union between people who have different religious traditions — has also grown increasingly common and make up 14% of all marriages. Another 14% of Americans are in a religious-secular marriage where one person does not identify with a faith tradition while the other does.
Despite the general waning of religious influence on marriages in general, some faith groups, particularly practicing Mormons and Protestants, were found to be more likely to marry someone of the same faith than any other religious group.
Some 87% of Mormons reported their spouse is also Mormon. Evangelical Protestants registered a high 83% marriage rate with people from their faith, while 72% of mainline Protestants say they are married to someone from their religion. A majority of Catholics (65%) and Jews (59%) also reported that their spouse shared their faith.
While interfaith marriages are now more common, the study found that Americans in these unions usually had lower levels of religious commitment.
“Americans in religiously mixed marriages are far less likely to attend services regularly than those married to someone who has the same religious commitments,” Cox wrote.
The study showed that 44% of Americans whose spouse shares their faith attend services at least once a week.
Only 16% of Americans in interfaith marriages, however, attend formal worship services weekly or more, while 81% of Americans in secular marriages say they never attend religious services.
“One possible explanation for the discrepancy in religious involvement is that people who enter interfaith relationships simply care about religion less,” Cox wrote. “As a result, Americans in religiously mixed marriages may not have prioritized religious compatibility when selecting a spouse.”