“Men and women who share an active religious faith, for instance, enjoy higher levels of relationship quality and sexual satisfaction compared to their peers in secular or less/mixed religious relationships. They also have more children and are more likely to marry. At the same time, we do not find that faith protects women from domestic violence in married and cohabiting relationships.”
The 11 countries studied were Argentina, Australia, Chile, Canada, Colombia, France, Ireland, Mexico, Peru, the United Kingdom, and the United States, and the study drew on data from the World Values Survey (WVS) and the Global Family and Gender Survey (GFGS). Authors included those affiliated with Brigham Young University and Pew Research Center.
The authors focused on four outcomes regarding marriage: relationship quality, fertility, domestic violence, and infidelity. They note that many societies are experiencing a general turning away from “traditional” family life as fewer people marry and have children, and more people cohabitate or wait to marry later than in the past.
“Faith may buffer against this post-familial turn, both by attaching particular meaning and importance to family life and by offering norms and networks that foster family solidarity,” the authors wrote in the introduction.
“But these questions are also important given that religion may be a force for ill—legitimating gender inequality or violence in the family—a concern that has taken on particular salience in light of recent headlines about religion, domestic violence, and child sexual abuse.”
The researchers defined “relationship quality” in terms of several factors, including a couple’s reported overall satisfaction, how important they view the relationship in their life, their satisfaction with their sex lives, and whether or not important household decisions are decided jointly or by just one of the partners.
In the sample used, 19% of couples reported never attending religious services, 60% attended only minimally, and 21% attended regularly.
Both women and men in “highly religious” couples— i.e. regular attendees— reported significantly greater satisfaction in their relationship than did both the other groups, with liberal, secular couples running a close second.
The difference was especially notable for women: women in “highly religious” relationships were about 50% more likely to report that they are “strongly satisfied” with their sexual relationship than their secular and less religious counterparts.
“For women, then, there is J-Curve in relationship quality, with secular progressive women doing comparatively well, women in the middle doing less well,and highly religious women reporting the highest quality relationships,” the authors wrote.
“Among men, highly religious traditional men were found to be significantly higher in relationship quality than men in shared secular progressive and less religious progressive relationships.”
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In addition, women in highly religious couples were most likely to report that she and her spouse practice joint decision-making in their relationship.
The researchers assigned a “relationship quality” score in order to compare different religious affiliations in their sample, with a higher score representing greater overall satisfaction. Catholic couples sampled reported an overall score of 15.83, which is equal to the score reported by Muslims and slightly higher than the score for nonreligious couples.
Protestants and Latter-Day Saints lead the table with scores of 16.36 and 17.24, respectively.
“In listening to the happiest secular progressive wives and their religiously conservative counterparts, we noticed something they share in common: devoted family men,” the authors wrote in a New York Times op-ed accompanying the release of the study.
“Both feminism and faith give family men a clear code: They are supposed to play a big role in their kids’ lives. Devoted dads are de rigueur in these two communities. And it shows: Both culturally progressive and religiously conservative fathers report high levels of paternal engagement.”
Relationship to domestic violence