Study: Religious Parents' Divorce May Cause Children to Leave the Church

Effect is greatest among divorced couples who both regularly attend church.

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The study's lead author says the effect of divorce on a child's future religious beliefs was seen across all religions.

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A new study has found that the children of religious couples are much more likely to leave the religion if their parents get divorced.

The study, published Tuesday in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, found that children who had two religious parents who get divorced are twice as likely to become estranged from their church as adultscompared to people whose parents didn't get divorced.

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"When both parents are religious, the effect of divorce has a negative effect on religiosity," says Jeremy Uecker, a professor at Baylor University and lead author of the study. "They might think their parents' marriage was ordained by God or something and that breakup can have more of an effect on their religiousness in adulthood."

Previous studies have found a link between divorce and a child's future beliefs, but Uecker says that the "effect has been overstated" because those previous studies did not take into account the parents' religious beliefs.

"It could be that it's not the divorce that's causing a [less religious] outcome, but instead the fact that their parents may have been less religious to begin with," he says.

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Uecker says the effect of divorce on a child's future religious beliefs was seen across all religions. In the future, he hopes to study why children of divorced parents seem more likely to be less religious.

"I think it's this idea of the loss of socialization and teaching of the religion when parents separate," he says. "The next goal is to identify the mechanisms and reasons why parental divorce matters—to follow a group of children over time and ask them about religious training and that sort of thing."

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