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Christian & religious families happier, less likely to divorce

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Men who attend religious services regularly are more likely to have happy and stable marriages, more likely to be involved with their children and less likely to divorce, new research says.

Additionally, mothers who attend church weekly are half as likely to have children out of wedlock, the study says.

The research by the University of Virginia’s W. Bradford Wilcox analyzed data from three national surveys: the General Social Survey, the National Survey of Families and Households, and the National Survey of Family Growth. The research also drew partially from data in Wilcox’s book, “Soft Patriarchs, New Men: How Christianity Shapes Fathers and Husbands.”

“[R]eligious men (and their wives) enjoy happier marriages, they are less likely to father a child outside of wedlock, and they are more likely to take an active and affectionate approach to child rearing, compared to secular or nominally religious men,” Wilcox wrote. “Therefore, any effort to strengthen men’s ties to their children and families must acknowledge and incorporate the important role that religious institutions play in directing men’s hearts toward home.”

The research — titled “Is Religion An Answer? Marriage, Fatherhood, and the Male Problematic” — was posted on the website of The Center for Marriage and Families in June. It was commissioned by the National Fatherhood Initiative.

The research paper noted that over the past 50 years large numbers of men have become disconnected from family life. The “percentage of children living in father-absent homes rose from 11 percent in 1960 to 27 percent in 2000,” the paper said. Additionally, 38.5 percent of babies in 2006 were born out of wedlock, it said.

The breakdown of marriage, the sexual revolution, declining real wages and the rise of individualism all have contributed to distancing men from their families, the research said. Religion, though, can play a role in bringing men closer to their families, it said. The research found that:

— 70 percent of husbands “who attend church regularly report they are ‘very happy’ in their marriages,” compared to “59 percent of husbands who rarely or never attend church.”

— men and women who attended religious services several times a month or more “were approximately 35 percent less likely to divorce between 1988 and 1993, compared to their married peers who rarely or never attended religious services.”

— fathers who attend church several times a month or more “devote at least two hours a week more in youth-related activities,” “are significantly more likely to engage in one-on-one activities with their school-age children” and “are also at least 65 percent more likely to report praising and hugging their children very often” compared to fathers who don’t any religious affiliation.

— mothers “who attend church weekly or more are about half as likely to have a child outside of wedlock, compared to mothers who attend church less often or never.”

Marriages are strongest when the husband and wife attend religious services together, the research said.

“This finding is important because men, women, and children who are fortunate enough to live in families centered around high-quality, stable marriages enjoy a range of benefits: better health, greater wealth, and more happiness than their peers,” Wilcox wrote. “Thus, insofar as this brief finds that religion binds husbands to their wives in stronger marriages in the United States, it also suggests that religion indirectly fosters the physical, economic, and emotional well-being of adults and children.”

Why does religion have such a positive impact on fathers and families? The paper cited four reasons. Churches and religious institutions: 1) teach moral responsibility to fathers; 2) provide fathers with opportunities, such as youth groups, to spend time with their children and families; 3) offer encouragement and advice on being an effective parent; and 4) provide a “meaningful order” to life, thereby helping fathers “deal constructively” with trials, such as unemployment and death.

The research also cited data showing that cohabitation — that is, couples living together before marriage — do not provide stability.

“Men living in cohabiting unions are unlikely to stick around and develop abiding ties to their children, because cohabiting unions are much less likely than marriages to endure,” Wilcox wrote. “One study found that a child born to a cohabiting couple had a 50 percent risk that her parents would part in her first five years of life; by contrast, a child born to a married couple had only a 15 percent risk that her parents would part in her first five years.”
Michael Foust is an assistant editor for Baptist Press.

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