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November 15, 2004

Divorce Rates Highest In Bible Belt States

Mustang Bobby at Bark, Bark, Woof, Woof and Tom Sylvester at the Family Scholars Blog wrote about the recent New York Times article that divorce rates in Bible Belt states are the highest in the country. States in the northeast have the lowest divorce rates. I've known that for quite some time and I've written about it here in the past. I didn't know until this recent news that Massachusetts has the lowest divorce rate. Barbara Dafoe Whitehead provided a possible explanation for the difference in divorce rates:

Ms. Whitehead, who lives in Amherst, Mass., said that New England is a region that has "more stability" than other regions. "People stay here, their families stay here, and there's more social and family support for people, a more communal versus individualistic culture in New England compared to the cowboy states."

She said religion may underscore those regional differences.

"In states with lots of evangelicals, the more individualistic Protestant religious faiths may actually also encourage more go-it-alone attitudes than communal ones," Ms. Whitehead said. And these are also states where the culture encourages sexual abstinence before marriage, she said.

"If your family or religious culture urges you not to have sex before you get married," she said, "then one answer is to get married, and then you're more likely to divorce."

It isn't news that divorce rates are highest in Bible Belt states. The last time I wrote about this issue, I mentioned Barna Research, which is is a marketing research group that focuses on Christian interests. Barna admits that the highest divorce rates in the U. S. are in Bible Belt states.


The region in of the nation in which divorce is least likely is the Northeast. In that area, 28% of adults who have been married have also been divorced, compared to 32% in the Midwest, 35% in the South, and 38% in the West.

Overall, 33% of all born again individuals who have been married have gone through a divorce, which is statistically identical to the 34% incidence among non-born again adults.

I have seen numerous sources for that little Bible-Belt divorce factoid. Barna is only one. Religous Tolerance quoted more from Barna about the high rates of divorce amongst Christians:

George Barna, president and founder of Barna Research Group, commented: "While it may be alarming to discover that born again Christians are more likely than others to experience a divorce, that pattern has been in place for quite some time. Even more disturbing, perhaps, is that when those individuals experience a divorce many of them feel their community of faith provides rejection rather than support and healing. But the research also raises questions regarding the effectiveness of how churches minister to families. The ultimate responsibility for a marriage belongs to the husband and wife, but the high incidence of divorce within the Christian community challenges the idea that churches provide truly practical and life-changing support for marriages."

What I found interesting that hasn't been making it to the blogs or the mainstream media is news about a study in the November/December issue “Facts & Trends” magazine that found "the most prominent threats to families in Protestant communities are divorce, negative influences from the media, and materialism." The "threats" have been listed in this order:

• Divorce (43 percent)
• Negative influences from the media (38 percent)
• Materialism (36 percent)
• Absentee fathers (24 percent)
• Families that lack a stay-at-home parent (22 percent)
• Co-habitation before marriage (18 percent)
• Pornography (17 percent)
• Morality not being taught in schools (14 percent)
• Poverty, unemployment, and/or a poor economy (13 percent)
• Parental alcohol use/abuse (12 percent)
• Parental drug use/abuse (11 percent)
• Drug use/abuse among teens or children (8 percent)
• Teen sexual involvement/activity (8 percent)
• Alcohol use/abuse among teens or children (6 percent)
• Adultery (5 percent)
• Poor schools or quality of education (4 percent)
• Teen pregnancy (2 percent)
• Sexual predators or sexual abuse (1 percent)
• The expense of child care (1 percent)
• Other issues (12 percent)

I take it that these are Protestants (ministers were interviewed) talking about themselves; problematic issues that concern them the most. This new study certainly goes hand-in-hand with the old news that divorce rates are highest in Bible Belt states.

Posted on November 15, 2004 at 09:38 AM | Permalink


Southeners are more likely than yankees to get married rather than just live together. That is why their divorce rates are higher. To claim that northern states have more of a "communal" society is absurd.

Lies, damn lies and statistics.

Posted by: Tyler at Nov 24, 2004 9:52:25 PM

I don't live in the NE, so I don't know about the "communal" society, but I would not critisize them for not making a lifelong commitment before they are ready to do so. I don't see that as a bad thing. Tyler seems to think that if you also counted relationships where the couple was "living in sin", that the breakup rate would be the same. I have not seen any data to support that so I don't know if it is true. If it is, it would indicate that "southeners" are not as different from "yankees" as they would like to believe. What I think the findings indicate is that while commitment to the relationship is necessary, it alone is not sufficient to sustain it. Perhaps the "southeners" divorce rate would improve if they also focussed on the other things needed by the relationship rather than solely on the commitment to it.

Posted by: Angie at Dec 22, 2004 2:15:33 PM