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'Red' States Have Higher Divorce Rates Than 'Blue' States, And Here's Why

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It may seem counterintuitive, but divorce rates are higher in religiously conservative "red" states than "blue" states, despite a Bible-based culture that discourages divorce.

In a new study titled "Red States, Blue States, and Divorce: Understanding the Impact of Conservative Protestantism on Regional Variation in Divorce Rates," which will be published later this month in the American Journal of Sociology, demographer and University of Texas at Austin professor Jennifer Glass set out to discover why divorce rates would be higher in religious states like Arkansas and Alabama -- which boast the second and third highest divorce rates, respectively -- but lower in more liberal states like New Jersey and Massachusetts.

It was previously thought that socioeconomic hardships in the South were largely to blame for high divorce rates, however Glass and her fellow researchers concluded that the conservative religious culture is in fact a major contributing factor thanks to "the social institutions they create" that "decrease marital stability."

Specifically, putting pressure on young people to marry sooner, frowning upon cohabitation before marriage, teaching abstinence-only sex education and making access to resources like emergency contraception more difficult all result in earlier childbearing ages and less-solid marriages from the get-go, Glass writes in the paper.

“It’s surprising,” W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project, told The Los Angeles Times. “In some contexts in America today, religion is a buffer against divorce. But in the conservative Protestant context, this paper is showing us that it’s not.”

Glass and her colleagues also concluded that the religious culture of the area permeated into the divorce rates of even the non-religious people who lived there. In other words, simply by living in counties that were dominated by conservative Protestantism, people were at a higher risk for getting divorced.

As Glass told The Los Angeles Times, “If you live in a marriage market where everybody marries young, you postpone marriage at your own risk. The best catches … are going to go first.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story referred to the University of Texas at Austin as the University of Austin. The text has been updated to reflect the change.

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