A new analysis of three major national surveys claims that married couples who attend church together tend to be happier than couples who rarely or never attend services and are also less likely to divorce.
University of Virginia sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox, using data from the General Social Survey (GSS), the National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH), and the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG), found that married churchgoing Americans, regardless of race or religious denomination, were more likely to describe themselves as “very happy” – more so than non-churchgoing married couples, Cybercast News Service reports.
Professor Wilcox also found that couples who regularly attend church together are less likely to divorce.
"Attending church only seems to help couples when they attend together," Wilcox told Cybercast News Service. "But when they do, they are significantly happier in their marriages, and they are much less likely to divorce, compared to couples who do not attend church. I would say that church attendance is a beneficial component of marriage when it is done together."
Wilcox said that churches supply moral norms like sexual fidelity and forgiveness while also offering family-friendly social networks to support couples through high and low points of their marriages.
Churches, he said, provide “a faith that helps couples make sense of the difficulties in their lives--from unemployment to illness--that can harm their marriages.”
"So, in a word, the couple that prays together stays together," said Wilcox.
Critics of Wilcox’s study say other factors may be at work.
"Some studies have reported a correlation between church attendance and successful marriages," Tom Flynn, editor of the secular humanist magazine Free Inquiry said to Cybercast News Service. "That may reflect the fact that males who are settled in their lives and are highly socialized are both more likely to succeed in their marriages and more likely to attend church."
Flynn said other studies suggesting a link between church membership and better health or a longer life could also mask other factors.
“Once again, it may mean that folks who have their lives together tend to avoid substance abuse, practice good health habits, and go to church," he said.
A 2001 Barna Research Poll showed that individuals who describe themselves as “born again” were just as, if not more, likely to divorce than other Christians and non-Christians.
"A few studies have shown that seculars who do marry have a better track record at staying married than members of Southern Baptists and other conservative denominations," Flynn said. "Those seculars who bother to marry may be marrying more successful than very traditional, male-authoritarian Christians."
Wilcox responded by claiming that men and women with an active church life “do look different in the marital realm.”
“At least in the marriage arena, faith alone doesn't work,” Wilcox said. “You've got to combine faith and works to enjoy a happy and stable marriage. You need the consistent message, the accountability, and the support a church community can provide to really benefit from religious faith.”