A relatively new study released by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) reveals a startling correlation between the rise of divorce rates in the U.S. and the decline of religious affiliation among younger Americans. The following chart tracks the growth in the number of people who identify with no religion (not necessarily atheist or agnostic) alongside the trending divorce rate.
Decline in specific religious affiliation is widespread, but not unanimous, between adolescence and adulthood; with some denominations fairing better or worse with regard to avowed adherents. The Catholic church takes the the brunt of the loss during this transitional period, losing about 1/3 of its congregational population to the “former Catholic” label.
Divorce, according to the study, plays a significant role in arriving at these outcomes. PRRI reports:
Previous research has shown that family stability—or instability—can impact the transmission of religious identity. Consistent with this research, the survey finds Americans who were raised by divorced parents are more likely than children whose parents were married during most of their formative years to be religiously unaffiliated (35% vs. 23% respectively).
Rates of religious attendance are also impacted by divorce. Americans who were raised by divorced parents are less likely than children whose parents were married during most of their childhood to report attending religious services at least once per week (21% vs. 34%, respectively). This childhood divorce gap is also evident even among Americans who continue to be religiously affiliated. Roughly three in ten (31%) religious Americans who were brought up by divorced parents say they attend religious services at least once a week, compared to 43% of religious Americans who were raised by married parents.
The findings illuminate the powerful consequences evoked from the separation of a child’s parents on their developmental outcomes. Further research is needed to confirm, but it is easily possible that psychological trauma effected from divorce foments a “problem of evil” dilemma in developing minds — precluding them from belief in a perfect, benevolent being. There certainly seems to be an important connection here that society, and particularly the church, might be wise to explore.
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