Bryan Caplan  

More on Fundamentalist Divorce

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I went back to the drawing board on fundamentalist divorce rates to check out a couple readers' hypotheses. The findings:

1. Excluding people who have never been married, fundamentalists are - as the stereotype would predict - less likely to divorce. It's noticeable: 33% divorce rate for fundamentalists, vs. 38% for people who think the Bible is just a storybook.

However, fundamentalists still have a higher divorce rate controlling for church attendance. And after adding demographic controls, belief in the Bible still doesn't predict anything about divorce.

2. Attitude toward the Bible does not have a U-shaped effect on divorce. In fact, insofar as belief in the Bible matters at all, people who believe the Bible is literally true look about the same as people who believe it is "merely" divinely inspired.

3. The data won't let me do much about people turning to Jesus as a result of divorce. Personally, I can easily believe that divorce prompts people to get more active in their church , but I doubt that divorce prompts more than a handful of people to adopt new theological positions.

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COMMENTS (10 to date)
Robert Cote writes:

I think all the questions asked are wrong. You need a metric of religiousity. The screening question could be: You have faith and your faith influences your behavoir. Then you need to discern fundamentalism. Is a practicing Catholic in full communion a fundamentalist? In the strict eyes of the Holy Roman Catholic Church they are but I doubt any "good" Catholic in the US would say as much.

Okay. The process doesn't mater in this subject. The implication is clear. Divorce is a bad economic practice, marriage is good.

The conclusions cannot be supporteed by the results.

Has anyone ever seen any similar studies with respect to other religions?

Kent Gatewood writes:

I support the view that any terminated sexual relationship is a divorce. Wilt Chamberlain would be responsible for 10,000 marriages and divorces. Warren Beatty should also help take fundamentalists out of the lead.

I look forward to El Presidente's response. Maybe thrown in a few differential equations.

Montie writes:

From the Barna survey, the numbers for evangelicals were actually higher (by a few percentage points) than the general population.

Where did the find the numbers that you used?

Montie Roland
Publisher ---

Steve Sailer writes:

Being "born-again" doesn't mean necessarily you've lived your whole life on the straight and narrow. In fact, it often means that you fell off the wagon hard, then climbed back on. The born-again may well, on average, be people who by nature are more strongly tempted by things that contribute to divorce like alcohol and adultery. Fundamentalism can be how they fight these temptations that they may well feel more strongly than the average reader of this blog.

So, the crucial question is the marginal effect of fundamentalism.

If you compare the social problem statistics (e.g., crime, drunkeness, welfare etc.) for the quite religious white working class in American versus their ethnic cousins, the now quite non-religious white working class in Britain, you'll see that the Americans are generally doing better. I suspect religion plays a big role in the better social health of the American working class.

RogerM writes:

Another way to look at this might be to do a similar regression on hospitals and illnesses. You would find a high correlation between hospitals and sick people. Does that mean that hospitals cause people to become sick, or that hospitals don't help people become well? Without domain knowledge, it's easy to construct regression models that don't make sense.

Bryan may be assuming that all fundamentalists are fundamentalists because they grew up in fundamentalist families. It's probably true that most fundamentalists grew up in fundamentalist families, but a high percentage of fundamentalists are converts. In addition, many fundamentalist children leave the church and lifestyle during their 20's and return after some devastating event, such as divorce, causes them to seek spiritual help. So the converts and the prodigals will contaminate the data set.

I doubt that divorce prompts more than a handful of people to adopt new theological positions. That's true, else fundamentalist churches would be growing like cray! But fundatmentalist churches place a lot of emphasis on ministries to divorced people, usually managed by divorcees. So they should have a high percentage.

RogerM writes:

PS, Bryan obviously wants to prove that taking the Bible seriously has no beneficial social consequences, which is fine. A lot of people have tried in the past. I had a professor (PhD Harvard) in college who believed that taking the Bible seriously is what caused men to become rapists. A psych prof (Univ of CO) thought that Christianity has the same cause as schizophrenia.

But if Bryan really wants to analyze the effects of taking the Bible seriously (could it be called Bibliophilia? if so, is Bryan Bibliophobic?) he needs to find out how many people got divorced after becoming a fundamentalist.

chris writes:

How about instead of asking who is a fundamentalist ask how often they read their Bible. Also ask if the family prays together at night.

RogerM writes:

How about instead of asking who is a fundamentalist ask how often they read their Bible. Also ask if the family prays together at night.

Chris, That's a good point! Years ago my Dad was in law enforcement and he used to joke that 80% of the inmates were Baptists (my denomination). BAck then when inmates entered the prison, they were asked their religious affiliation so that the appropriate chaplain could visit them. Even though most of the inmates had never gone to church anywhere, they would choose the denomination of their mother or grandmother. Still, statistically speaking it appeared as if being Baptist makes you more likely to become a criminal.

RogerM writes:

I appologize for hogging the blog, but I have just one more comment: I'm curious as to why the irreligious use social measures to attempt to deligitimize fundamentalists? I can't think of a fundamentalist leader or writer who ever claimed that fundamentalism would lead to better social statistics, such as lower divorce rates. Only those who oppose fundamentalism make the claim that it should.

On the issue of divorce, I have personally known fundamentalism to cause divorces when one spouse converted and the other didn't. In addition, non-fundamentalists have just as much to lose as fundamentalists in divorce; it's devastating to both sides. Non-fundamentalists have every bit as much motivation to stay married as do fundamentalists. The causes of divorce are so numerous and the interactions so complex that I don't think simply believing the Bible is true will ever untangle them.

Finally, people are hypocrites. That's human nature. Many fundamentalists believe the Bible is true, but don't follow its principles very well. It's called being a sinner in fundamentalism and fundamentalists will be the first to admit that we're all sinners.

But atheists are just as hypocritical, possibly more so. That was Dr. Francis Schaeffer's main point. Athests claim that life is nothing more than an accident, then live as if their lives had meaning and that morals are natural. But the great philosophers of the 20th century, especially Sartre and Camus have demonstrated that without God, life has no meaning and morals don't exist.

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