Are religion and marriage related?
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the February 2022 edition of the Daily Universe Magazine.
Maddi Behrens, 22, and her husband, Nate Behrens, 24, have known each other for about two years. They dated for a total of a year and a half, then recently married in November 2021, shortly after graduating from BYU.
People outside of Utah might say they’re too young to get married, but Alan Hawkins, a professor at the BYU School of Family Life, said the average age to get married in Utah is about 23 years old.
So while their story seems normal to most people living in Utah or knowing Utah’s specific culture, it may not seem so normal to people in other states. In the rest of the country, it’s more common for people to get married in their late 20s and 30s. Why is Utah different?
There’s a big reason: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Does religion in Utah affect marriage rates?
Nicholas Wolfinger, professor of family and consumer studies at the University of Utah, is a social demographer specializing in marriage and divorce.
He helped write a book published in 2006 called “Utah At The Beginning Of The New Millennium: A Demographic Perspective”. Wolfinger and Vincent Kang Fu, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Utah, wrote Chapter Four, “Marriage and Divorce in Utah and the United States: Convergence or Continuing Divergence?”
In the chapter they wrote, Wolfinger and Kang Fu said there was no direct evidence of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ influence on marriage patterns in Utah. . However, there is evidence that Utahns marry at a younger age than the US average, and that Utah women of all ages are more likely to be married than other Americans. Although there are no exact data, Wolfinger believes that religious leanings in Utah have fostered a social climate conducive to marriage.
Utah Department of Health data shows marriages and divorces in the state of Utah as well as the United States from 1990 to 2018. In those 29 years, marriage rates in the state of Utah were much higher than the national average, but divorce rates were equal to or slightly higher in Utah than the national average.
Wolfinger said church membership in Utah plays a role in the state’s high marriage rates. He said Utah has one of the highest rates of married students: Elsewhere, it’s more common for people to marry after graduation.
The effects of religion on marriage
According to Hawkins, highly religious couples are much less likely to divorce. Hawkins’ research focuses on educational interventions and public policy aimed at preventing unnecessary divorce and helping couples form and maintain healthy marriages and relationships.
Wolfinger said people who attend religious services regularly are more likely to marry.
The idea of being religious having a connection to marriage is not specific to Latter-day Saints, but according to Wolfinger, Latter-day Saints have high turnouts. “They attend church regularly and participate in other ways. And so that correlates with a high marriage rate,” he said.
The fact that highly religious couples are much less likely to divorce and that people who attend religious services are more likely to marry shows that there is a clear correlation between religion and marriage.
Why are religion and marriage so linked? The Behrenses said there was no doubt that religion played a huge role in their beliefs and ideas about marriage.
Maddi Behrens said her knowledge and belief in the Church and the gospel of Jesus Christ made marriage a bigger deal for her than it likely otherwise would be.
“We know it’s forever, and only when death do us part,” she said. “This is our eternity.”
The Impact of Marriage on Church Members
Although marriage in the worldview is changing, the importance of marriage and family plays a big role in the Church, and the idea and trends of marriage seem a bit different in the Church than elsewhere.
Maddi and Nate Behrens agreed that their upbringing in the Church had a major impact on their idea of marriage and why they chose to marry.
Nate Behrens said knowing the gospel and how God’s plan works helped him get a stronger idea of what it really means to have a lasting marriage and the principles needed to build a relationship that will last for the rest of the year. eternity.
One of the major changes in marriages in recent years is that it has become more voluntary, Hawkins said. Marriage was once something expected in someone’s life at some point, but that is no longer the case in today’s world. It’s more of a personal choice, he says.
Maddi Behrens said that without their strong religious beliefs, she thinks she and Nate would have started living together and doing everything they do now, just without the commitment of marriage. But because of the way she was raised and what she was taught, she understood the importance of the commitment of marriage, not just cohabitation. And that’s why she and Nate chose to commit to marriage.
“It’s important so you can have a companion in life and start a family and get all the blessings out of it, and that’s what Heavenly Father asked us to do,” she said.
In the Church, it is a commandment to marry and have a family, which could explain why many members of the Church choose to marry apparently faster than others who do not have this belief.
How Marriage Has Changed
Marriage has undergone many changes over the years, and there are signs that more changes will occur in the future.
Hawkins says there’s a nine-syllable word used for marriage these days: deinstitutionalization.
“Fifty years ago, it was a pretty strong institution that sort of ordered our life cycle, our life force, and what we did,” Hawkins said. “Now we’re in a situation where marriage means a lot of different things to a lot of different people.”
Hawkins expects the trend of deinstitutionalization to continue. He said he believes society will one day transform to not expect marriage to order our lives. “It’s just going to be one of those lifestyle traits that some people embrace, and some people don’t,” he said. “So it’s going to recede and its importance to our society.”
Hawkins thinks it will be easy to see a substantial increase in the number of people choosing not to marry, marrying later in life, or choosing not to have children in marriage. But Hawkins said he hoped any predictions he had for the future of marriage in society were wrong.
“Maybe we will see a renaissance. Maybe we’ll get to that threshold and look out over the horizon and say, ‘Whoa, wait a minute, there’s a lot of things in marriage that we give up on,’ he said.
Utah Marriage and Divorce Rates
According to the Utah Department of Health public health data resourceUtah’s marriage rate has seen a fairly steady downward trend in marriages since 2002. Between 2015 and 2017, the rate increased.
Divorce rates have also been on a downward trend with an average rate of around 4,000. Marriage and divorce rates are falling everywhere, not just in Utah.
On the bright side, even though rates are falling, Hawkins said people who marry tend to have more stable marriages. It probably has something to do with Hawkins’ idea that marriage in today’s society has become more voluntary.
Data shows that fewer people are getting married and fewer people are getting divorced. According to Wolfinger, the divorce rate is at its lowest in 40 years. Is the reason there are fewer divorces because there are fewer marriages, or could something else play into this?
Wolfinger says one of the reasons the divorce rate has gone down over the years is that people are waiting until they’re older to get married. “People who marry very young have higher divorce rates,” Wolfinger said.
Utah follows national marriage and divorce trends, but it’s different in that people are getting married at a much younger age in Utah, according to Wolfinger. Although people who marry young generally have high divorce rates, active members of the Church tend to have lower divorce rates.
Even after that was factored in, Wolfinger said rates were still falling. He said it’s impossible to know for sure why the rates are falling, but one hypothesis he has is: “The types of people who are not getting married now and who were getting married before are the types of people who are more likely to have divorced.”
Wolfinger concluded that even with fewer people getting married, “the majority of people still yearn for marriage and will indeed marry.”