A recent Barna report confirms that Christians divorce more often than atheists. What it doesn’t say is that Christian marriages are also the most successful, suggesting a paradox. Here is the rest of the story.
A decade ago, the Barna Group reported that Christians divorce more often than atheists, and young people cite this statistic as a reason to avoid church altogether. But Barna improperly analyzed the raw data, and failed to communicate that the same survey reveals Christian marriages are also significantly more successful.
In fact, the same survey reveals that of those who claim no religion, three times as many responded that they are currently divorced, when compared to Evangelical Christians. So while it is admittedly true that Christians divorce more often than atheists, it is also true that fewer Christians are currently divorced, or have ever divorced.
The reason for this seeming paradox is that Barna doesn’t base his divorce rate on those who have ever been married, but rather on the entire population of the group, including singles who have never married. Since fewer atheists marry, their divorce rate is lower, because you can’t get divorced if your aren’t first married. Saying that Christians have higher divorce rates is a lot like saying that stunt men are injured in falls more often. Of course they are, but that doesn’t mean they’re less coordinated then the rest of us.
More recently, in March of 2008, Barna released a new report, but again concluded that Christian marriages are more prone to failure. And once again, the success rate is not cited. Here are the most recent statistics, but with the missing success rates calculated. By applying the formula,
Success = (Ever_Married – Ever_Divorced) / EverMarried
we discover that among adults who have ever married or divorced, the percentage of the population who have married and never divorced is:
* 62 percent for born-again Christians. (EM = 84%, ED=32%).
* 54 percent for atheists/agnostics. (EM = 65%, ED = 30%).
* 49 percent for non-Christian faiths. (EM = 74%, ED = 38%).
In other words, by calculating the success rate, Christian marriages are shown to be more successful than marriages between atheists, agnostics, and others in non-Christian faiths.
The Barna report does not give enough information to break down the success rates of various denominations, but we can find those statistics in an earlier 2001 report. The huge American Religious Identification Survey, or ARIS, surveyed more than 50,000 adults. The survey questions asked about their current situation, rather than whether they had ever married or divorced. And like Barna, their results painted a similar picture, but they then broke the results into various denominations.
So here are a few of the highlights. The percentages of the total population who say they are currently married or currently divorced are:
* 74% Married, 7% Divorced for Evangelicals
* 73% Married, 10% Divorced for the Assemblies of God
* 63% Married, 9% Divorced for Church of Christ
* 60% Married, 9% Divorced for Catholics
* 58% Married, 12% Divorced for Baptists
* 58% Married, 14% Divorced for Pentecostals
* 35% Married, 8% Divorced for Buddhists
* 19% Married, 9% Divorced for those claiming no religion
Both reports lead to the obvious conclusion that Christian marriages are more likely to succeed. But a number of secular sources are loudly proclaiming just the opposite, and even some churches have passed on the misinformation, apparently thinking that it motivates members to greater spirituality, but without double checking its accuracy, or considering its impact on those who may be considering a lifestyle of faith.
The results also support the belief that faith in God leads to abundant life, which is a claim of Christ. So while the divorce rate in Churches should always be of concern, the evidence indicates that churches are doing something right. It is time to communicate the truth to a generation that is buried in a wave of misleading information. Christian marriages are indeed the most successful.
ARIS. 2001. American Religious Identification Survey. The Graduate Center of the City University of New York. http://www.gc.cuny.edu/faculty/research_studies/aris.pdf>. Accessed 2/2009.
Barna, George. 2004. Born Again Christians Just As Likely to Divorce As Are Non-Christians. http://www.barna.org/FlexPage.aspx?Page=BarnaUpdateNarrow&BarnaUpdateID=170>. Accessed 2/25/2009.
Barna, George. 2008. New Marriage and Divorce Statistics Released. http://www.barna.org/FlexPage.aspx?Page=BarnaUpdateNarrow&BarnaUpdateID=295>.