I wish Naomi Schaefer Riley had consulted with us, or at least looked at the resources available on InterfaithFamily.com, before the Washington Post published her story, Interfaith marriages are rising fast, but they’re failing fast too.
My main complaint about the article is that it cites no compelling evidence whatsoever to support the thesis of the title that interfaith marriages are failing fast. It is a common perception, to be sure, that interfaith marriages fail at rates higher than same faith marriages, but I have never been able to find reliable evidence to that effect. In addition to citing a 1993 paper (but not any data in it comparing inter- and intra-faith divorce rates), Riley says that “According to calculations based on the American Religious Identification Survey of 2001, people who had been in mixed-religion marriages were three times more likely to be divorced or separated than those who were in same-religion marriages.” Who made the calculations? Are they published some place – and available to be scrutinized?
It seems that Riley’s article was prompted by the notorious Reyes case in Chicago. We’ve blogged about that extreme case several times. It’s not fair to generalize to all interfaith marriages, however, from a case where the husband converts to Judaism, the couples splits up, and the husband then takes their child to church trailed by TV cameras.
Last August we published a report on a study by Janice Aron, Interfaith Marriage Satisfaction Study Yields Answers and More Questions. Her conclusion:
The study found absolutely no difference in marital satisfaction between people who were married to partners of the same faith, and people married to partners of a different faith.
This is an interesting finding because it seems to herald a new trend in the psychological research in this area. There is a body of research supporting the idea that homogamous marriages tend to be happier than heterogamous ones, but some recent research like mine finds no difference. Perhaps this is the trend of the future. I am hoping it means Americans are becoming less suspicious about, and more accepting of, other religious views. Perhaps the more heterogamous our society becomes, the more we are forced to re-examine our assumptions about others.
It is commonly reported that the overall divorce rate in the United States is 50%. Young people are doubtless aware of that, but thankfully they continue to marry. As a practical matter, which Riley recognizes, young people in love are probably not going to be dissuaded from pursuing their interfaith relationships by calculations of a higher risk of divorce. I think it is unfortunate, though, to have yet another negative pall cast over intermarriage.
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