In 2017, something unprecedented took place in Jacksonville, Florida. The Jacksonville Baptist Association and local Catholic Diocese joined forces to co-sponsor a large marriage education and enrichment program for the Duval County area. What inspired local Catholics and evangelicals to come together was a privately funded community campaign to strengthen marriage. Over a three-year period, an organization called the Culture of Freedom Initiative (COFI) worked with about 50 Protestant and Catholic churches and over 40 local nonprofits to reach roughly 50,000 adults in Jacksonville.
Tommy and Sondra Davis are one of the Jacksonville couples whose floundering marriage was saved as a result of the campaign. Tommy says he was “99 percent out of his marriage” when a counselor with Live the Life, COFI’s main nonprofit partner, convinced him and his wife to attend an intensive marriage enrichment event called Hope Weekend.
“That Hope Weekend didn’t just save our marriage,” Sondra says. “It changed our lives.”
Indeed, according to a new report conducted by the Institute for Family Studies (IFS) and sponsored by the Philanthropy Roundtable, the marriage campaign may have had a similar impact on the marriages of thousands of Jacksonville residents. From 2016 to 2018, as the campaign was underway, the divorce rate in Duval County fell by more than 20 percent, a significantly bigger divorce decline than the one witnessed across the United States as a whole.
Did the Culture of Freedom Initiative’s marriage campaign help drive down Jacksonville’s divorce rates? To answer that question, IFS conducted a series of statistical tests comparing Duval County’s divorce rate (since Jacksonville comprises most of the county) to the national divorce rate during the same time period. They also compared Duval’s rate to other similar counties across Florida and the US, including cities with large military bases like Jacksonville’s.
Three findings from the IFS report stand out:
First, Duval’s rate fell 27 percent between 2015 and 2017, significantly more than the divorce rate decline in the United States during that same time period (which was 6 percent) and double that of the 10 percent decline in Florida.
Second, Duval County’s divorce rate decline was also larger than the decline in similar counties in Florida with over 800,000 residents, as shown in the figure below.
Finally, after controlling for sociodemographic factors like education, race, and income, IFS found that “divorce fell about 21 percent more in Duval County” than in comparable counties across the United States. The figure below illustrates the way in which divorce fell more in Duval County than it did in the vast majority of large counties with available data.
Although the IFS report is careful to note that scholars cannot definitively conclude that the marriage campaign caused the divorce decline in Jacksonville, the report’s authors were struck by the fact that “the increase in family stability in Jacksonville during the years of the Culture of Freedom Initiative was larger than the increase in family stability witnessed in the vast majority of other large, comparable counties across the United States.”
So what happened in Jacksonville?
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Source: Christianity Today