Couples who share a religious denomination are happier with their marriages and less likely to divorce, according to research reported in the June issue of the Journal of Family Issues, a professional scholarly journal.
BYU co-authors Tim B. Heaton, professor of sociology, and graduate student Edith L. Pratt report that belonging to the same church significantly improves couples' marital happiness and decreases their likelihood of divorce.They found also that belonging to the same religion makes more difference in the marriage than attending church together or holding similar religious beliefs.
"The likelihood of being happy is 42 percent higher if you're the same denomination - that's a strong influence," reports Heaton. "The influence on stability is even greater - it's over 50 percent.
"There are lots of things that make a difference in how happy a marriage is, but this study builds on a consistent set of findings that religion is one of the factors that makes a difference."
The BYU study was based on interviews with 6,000 married couples across the United States. Couples were asked about their marital happiness and likelihood of divorce, their beliefs, their church attendance and their religious affiliations.
While other studies have found that same-religion marriages are more stable, Heaton says researchers have debated whether religious couples stay together because their marriages are happier or because divorce isn't considered acceptable in their religious communities."That's one aspect of the research that hadn't been clarified. People said, `Religion keeps your family together but it's the pressure to stop divorce that keeps you together, it's not that your marriage is happy.'
"We found that they're happier and more stable, so religion appears to be good for marriages," said Heaton.
Heaton believes the study shows the complexity of religious culture and indicates that religion in the United States encompasses more than going to church or believing in the Bible.
"Religion is part of our basic culture. It may involve patterns of family and kinship ties, general standards about what types of behavior are appropriate and inappropriate, especially in families, and it may involve friendship networks."
Heaton said research shows that women are generally more religious than men, that they attend church more often and hold stronger religious beliefs. In this study, a husband's involvement in religion was very important to the stability and happiness of the marriage.
"The purpose of organized religion is to help people overcome selfish tendencies and be sensitive to the needs of others," he said. "Males in our society are generally socialized to suppress emotion, while cultural expectations for females include being more sensitive, so religion may have a greater socializing influence on men.
"Additionally, the religious world highly values fidelity in marriage. If a man is religious, his wife may appreciate his increased sensitivity as well as his greater likelihood of remaining faithful to the marriage."