Why are there more divorces in the Bible Belt?

CNN wonders what fuels the relatively high divorce rate in the "Bible Belt" compared with the relatively secular Northeastern US?

Southern men and women had higher rates of divorce in 2009 than their counterparts in other parts of the country: 10.2 per 1,000 for men and 11.1 per 1,000 for women, according to a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau released Thursday.

By comparison, men and women in the Northeast had the lowest rates of divorce, 7.2 and 7.5 per 1,000, which is also lower than the national divorce rate of 9.2 for men and 9.7 for women.

"In the South, there are higher rates of marriage and higher rates of divorce for men and women," said Diana Elliott, a family demographer with the U.S. Census Bureau and co-author of the new report. "In the Northeast, you have people who are delaying first marriages, and consequently there are lower rates of marriage and lower rates of divorce."

This is not just an exercise in comparative fidelity. There are real social consequences for the high levels of divorce, especially for women and children:

...Divorce still pushes more women into poverty than men and affects their children, since children are still more likely to live with their mothers (75%) than their fathers (25%), according to the same U.S. Census report.

Some other findings:

• Women divorcing in the past year were more likely than men to be in poverty (22% versus 11%).

• Women divorcing in the past year had less household income than their male counterparts. Of those women, 27% had annual household incomes below $25,000, compared with 17% of divorced men.

• Women who divorced in the past year were more likely to receive public assistance than men (23% versus 15%).

• Children living with a parent divorcing in 2009 were more likely to live in poverty (28%) compared with other children (19%) and more likely to live in a rented home (53%) than other children (36%).


Comments (6)

Some questions that I don't have the answers to:

1. How do births out of wedlock compare between the regions?

2. How do children born out of wedlock and their mothers fare compared to those who marry? How do they fair compared the divorced group?

3. None of the findings is surprising. But none of them tell me that women and children are better off staying in a failing marriage than they are in leaving it. Right?

Divorce is the real threat to marriage and families but no one would dare to suggest that divorce be outlawed. Curious.

@ Peter: I think you're on the wrong track with the idea that divorce is a threat to marriage. To the contrary, threat to marriage comes from a multitude of factors encompassing every one of the 10 Commandments and the Seven Deadly Sins.

Personally, I think the male-dominance scheme endorsed by the right wing of any religion has corrosive effects and is to blame for much of the divorce and general misery in those marriages. Dominance leads to oppression just as surely as power leads to corruption. The problem has increased not because the RRW are doing something new or different today; they aren't. It is because social change has made it impossible to hide systemic oppression under any circumstances.

Cheryl A. Mack

This article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has a little more information. One thing it states is:

Diana Elliott, a Census Bureau family demographer, said the relatively high percentage of people who pursue degrees in the Northeast is presumably a primary reason for lower marriage and divorce rates.
"Part of what's going on is that people don't get married until their education is complete" and they've started getting a footing in their careers, said Ms. Elliott, who worked on the report, "Marital Events of Americans: 2009."
The article also contains a link to the full report.

This doesn't directly answer the questions posed by Mr. Chilton, because the study looked primarily at people who were married, divorced, or widowed within a year. It does show that women who were recently divorced are in much worse economic shape than the population of all women (see Table 2). Recently divorced men are in somewhat worse economic shape than all men, but to a much lesser degree than for women.

You seem to have missed Peter's sly point, Cheryl. He was wryling noting how while today's "defenders" of "traditional marriage" thump Holy Writ to legislate against same-sex marriage and homosexuals in general -- even claiming scriptural justification for putting them to death, a la Uganda -- that same "Biblical values" crowd doesn't legislate against divorce, though Jesus made a very definitive ruling against divorce and divorcees remarrying (Matthew 5:31-32, Matthew 19:1-11, Mark 10:1-12, Luke 16:18) while saying nothing about homosexuals. They can't thump one part of the Bible while conveniently ignoring another.

Indeed, it's always been curious to see how many serial adulterers and divorced politicians are so vocal in the "defend traditional marriage" crowd among the "religious right" [sic, on both accounts] in America these days.

NOt a surprise. This is a topic of a recent book Red Families v. Blue Families: Legal Polarization and the Creation of Culture. From Jonathan Rauch's review:

.... Blue norms are well adapted to the Information Age. They encourage late family formation and advanced education. They produce prosperous parents with graduate degrees, low divorce rates, and one or two over-protected children.

Red norms, on the other hand, create a quandary. They shun abortion (which is blue America's ultimate weapon against premature parenthood) and emphasize abstinence over contraception. But deferring sex in today's cultural environment, with its wide acceptance of premarital sex, is hard. ....Moral traditionalism fails to prevent premarital sex and early childbirth. Births precipitate more early marriages and unwed parenthood. That, in turn, increases family breakdown while reducing education and earnings.....

The threat to marriage isn't from LGBT folks, it's from red state values, early pregnancy, and poor education.

--Susan Forsburg

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