December 21, 1999

Barna Research Online

(Ventura, CA) Divorce may not be popular, but it remains common in America. A new study by the Barna Research Group (Ventura, CA) shows that one out of every four American adults have experienced at least one divorce. One of the surprising outcomes to emerge from the study is that born again Christians are more likely to go through a marital split than are non-Christians.

Using statistics drawn from a nationwide survey interviews with nearly 4000 adults, the data show that although just 11% of the adults is currently divorced, 25% of all adults have experienced at least one divorce during their lifetime. Among born again Christians, 27% are currently or have previously been divorced, compared to 24% among adults who are not born again. (Because of the large sample size involved, that difference is statistically signficant.)

Who Gets Divorced?

What may be just as surprising are some of the statistics related to various population groups. For instance, while Baby Boomers have been widely criticized for their selfishness and their inattention to family needs in favor of career pursuits, the generation for which divorce is most prevalent is not the Boomers but the generation that preceeded them (the Seniors-18%). To date, only 7% of Busters have been divorced, but that is largely because most of them have yet to be married for the first time.

Other surprises included regional, ethnic and denominational differences. Divorce is much less likely in the Northeast than elsewhere. Only 19% of the residents of the Northeast have been divorced, compared to 26% in the West and 27% in both the South and the Midwest. A higher proportion of white get divorced (27%) than is true among African-Americans (22%) or Hispanics (20%). The eye-opener is that only 8% of Asians get divorced-just one-third the incidence found among white.

Among the characteristics that do not seem to related to divorce are educational achievement, household income, and political ideology.

Faith and Divorce

Surprisingly, the Christian denomination whose adherents have the highest likelihood of getting divorced are Baptists. Nationally, 29% of all Baptists adults have been divorced. The only Christian group to surpass that level are those associated with non-denominational Protestant churches: 34% of those adults have undergone a divorce. Of the nation's major Christian groups, Catholics and Lutherans have the lowest percentage of divorced individuals (21%). People who attend mainline Protestant churches, overall, experience divorce on part with the national average (25%).

Among non-Christian groups the levels vary. Jews, for instance, are among those most likely to divorce (30% have), while atheists and agnostics are below the norm (21%). Mormons, renowned for their emphasis upon strong families, are no different than the national average (24%).

A related survey recently completed by Barna Research among a nationwide sample of Protestant senior pastors showed that just 15% of pastors have ever been divorced.

A Reaction to the Research

These findings were both expected and surprising, according to George Barna, president of the firm that conducted the study. "The national statistics have remained the same for the past half-decade. While it may be alarming to discover that born again Christians are more likely than others to experience a divorce, that pattern has been in place for quite some time. Even more disturbing, perhaps, is that when those individuals experience a divorce many of them feel their community of faith provides rejection rather than support or healing. But the research also raises questions regarding the effectiveness of how churches minster to families. The ultimate responsibility for a marriage belongs to the husband and wife, but the high incidence of divorce within the Christian community challenges the idea that churches provide truly practical and life-changing support for marriages."

Barna also noted that the impact of such widespread divorce has left its mark on young people. "One of the most striking findings in our recent survey among teenages is that when we asked them to name their top goals for the future, one of the highest-rated was to get married and have the same spouse for their entire life. That's a remarkable goal-one that reflects their own exposure to, and rejection of, a family that has to survive divorce, for whatever reasons. Since millions of those teens have never had a healthy marriage modeled for them, we can only pray that they will have the strength of character and the support systems available to make their goal a reality."

Survey Methodology

These finds are based upon telephone interviews conducted throughout 1999 with random national samples of adults. In total, 3854 adults from the 48 continental states were interviewed. The estimated sampling error for the aggregate date is +/-2% at the 95% confidence level.

All of the interviews were conducted from the Barna Research Group telephone interviewing facility. Household were selected randomly through a random-digit dialing procudure (RDD), with just one adult interviewed per household. Quotas were also deployed to ensure accurate regional distribution and minor statistical weighting was used to ensure that the samples were used to increase the probability of selecting a representative sample of households.


Hopefully, this article will wake up evangelicals in our evangelical church. I have organized my editorial comments into three areas: Observations, a conclusion, and Manna Response. However, I would like the reader to acknowledge that we have a serious problem that must be dealt with. Ignoring the problem will only accelerate this dangerous trend of the "divorcing evangelical".



Manna's Response