Americans raised by divorced parents are less likely to be religiously affiliated later in life, according to a new survey from PRRI and Religion News Service.
The poll found that 35 percent of people raised in divorced homes were religiously unaffiliated later in life, compared to 23 percent of children who grew up in homes with married parents.
Divorce also had an impact on church attendance, with 21 percent of children who grew up with divorced parents reporting going to church at least once per week compared to 34 percent of people whose parents were married.
And the church attendance gap persisted even among Americans who stayed religiously affiliated as adults.
“Roughly three in 10 (31 percent) religious Americans who were brought up by divorced parents say they attend religious services at least once a week, compared to 43 percent of religious Americans who were raised by married parents,” the study explains.
PRRI researcher Daniel Cox said there are many reasons behind the growth of religiously unaffiliated Americans, but stressed the “structure of family life” as a piece of the overarching puzzle.
“Americans raised by divorced parents or by parents in interfaith marriages are less likely than those brought up in two-parent or single-faith households to be religiously active as adults,” Cox said.
Why family matters
As Deseret News previously reported, past research has also found that children of divorce are less likely to stay religiously affiliated.
Researcher and author Elizabeth Marquardt said in 2013 that she surveyed 1,500 young adults, finding that two-thirds of people from married families were fairly or very religious, while just over half of children of divorce said the same.
Additionally, church attendance was much higher among those who were in married families than those from divorced households.
And a Lifeway Research survey sponsored by Focus on the Family in 2015 found that 20 percent of churchgoers stopped going to church after a divorce. Their children also stop attending, with 35 percent of parents reporting that at least one of their kids who went before a divorce stopped after.
There are a variety of reasons why religious participation for teens could decrease, including scheduling issues as a result of visitation following a divorce, a feeling that religion doesn’t answer questions that divorce raises — or churches that take sides after parents split, among other potential causes.
Two-thirds of people who went through a divorce also reported no one from their churches reached out during that time, as noted in a 2013 report titled, “Does the Shape of Families Shape Faith? Challenging the Churches to Confront the Impact of Family Change.” It’s a study that Marquardt worked on in her role as director of the Center for Marriage and Families at the Institute for American Families.
In the end, churches need to be aware and engaged if they want to help stop these people from exiting the pews.
“The health and future of congregations depends upon understanding, reaching out to, and welcoming and nurturing as potential leaders those who have come of age in an era of dramatic family changes,” read the report’s executive summary. “The suffering felt by children of divorce may actually offer a pathway toward healing and growth, not only for themselves, but for the churches.”
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