Where can I find "the 1980 Harvard University study" about the effects of religion on divorce rates?

At the time of the study, one in three marriges ended in divorce. But they found that when a couple was married in a Church ceremony and they attended Church on a regular basis, prayed and read the Bible together daily, there was only one divorce in 1,105 marriages.

This "study" is mentioned frequently on the Internet, but we have found no evidence of such a study conducted at Harvard.  Furthermore, we have not been able to locate either the study or any reference for it in scholarly literature.  Consequently, we believe it is a contemporary legend.

A graduate student at another Ivy league school (Princeton) did publish a paper in 1980 in which the relationship between religious commitment, affiliation, and marital instability was investigated for the 5-year period 1972 to 1977.  (Shrum W., Religion and Marital Instability: Change in the 1970s? Review of Religious Research, vol. 21, no. 2 (1980), 135-47) Using data from the General Social Survey for those years, he found a correlation between frequent church attendance and marital satisfaction.  However, his figures indicate that close to 20% of the frequent-church attendees divorced, a much higher rate than the 1 in 1,105 marriages that's cited in the purported Harvard study.  That article did not address the effects of prayer or Bible study. Other studies confirm a very small correlation between frequent church attendance and lower divorce rates.

Annette Mahoney, Professor of Psychology at Bowling Green State University has conducted exhaustive literature reviews of the scholarly literature on religion and family life, including the relationship between religion and divorce.  The following articles contain assessments of 278 studies as well as comprehensive bibliographies.

  • Mahoney, A., Pargament, K. I., Swank, A., & Tarakeshwar, N. (2001). Religion in the home in the 1980s and 90s: A meta-analytic review and conceptual analysis of religion, marriage, and parenting. Journal of Family Psychology, 15, 559-596.



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