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Regular Religious Service Attendance Associated with 50% Lower Divorce Rates

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Professor Tyler VanderWeele Ph.D John L. Loeb and Frances Lehman Loeb Professor of Epidemiology Harvard University

Prof. VanderWeele

Professor Tyler VanderWeele Ph.D
John L. Loeb and Frances Lehman Loeb Professor of Epidemiology
Harvard University

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the key points of the paper?  

Response: Several prior studies have suggested that religious service attendance is associated with lower rates of divorce. However, many of these studies have been with small samples and have not had rigorous study designs. In addition, most studies have focused on women earlier in life and there has been little research on the effects of religious service attendance on divorce later in life. While divorce rates in the United States in general has been falling, it has in fact been increasing for middle-aged groups, doubling between 1990 and 2010.

In our study we found that among women in mid- to late- life, regular religious service attendance was subsequently associated with 50% lower divorce rates over the following 14 years of the study.

We also found that among those who were widowed, religious service attendance was associated with a 49% increase in the likelihood of remarrying over the 14 years of the study.

MedicalResearch.com: Why is this study significant, and What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Divorce has been shown in prior research to be associated with subsequently worse physical and mental health and lower levels of happiness and life satisfaction. When relational problems emerge and become severe they can be difficult to address. It is therefore important to identify protective factors and resources that can be used to support marriages. Religious service attendance appears to be one of those resources that can help sustain a marriage. 

MedicalResearch.com: Is this an incremental step forward in the research or a big step?

Response: Our results on religious service protecting against divorce was an important contribution to the research literature for mid- to late- life adults and confirmed the protective associations of prior studies in younger populations. However, with the results on remarriage, to the best of our knowledge, there has been no prior rigorous study focused on the link between religion and remarriage in mid- and late- life, a period in which most divorces and remarriage occurs, and so this was in fact a big step forward.

MedicalResearch.com: Did any findings surprise you?

Response: We found it very interesting that religious service attendance was associated with greater rates of remarriage for those who were widowed, but not for those who were divorced. Some of this may be related to religious teaching concerning remarriage following divorce; but some of this may also be related to the possibility that those who experience a divorce may have been unhappy in marriage, and thus are less likely to enter marriage again. In contrast, a widow may benefit from the support from religious community, and may also be more willing to remarry.

MedicalResearch.com: What are the societal or public health implications?

Response: The results do not imply that one should become religious just because of the positive benefits on relationships. However, for those who already hold religious beliefs, the results do suggest that participating in religious community, rather than just solitary practice, may be very valuable. Religious communities can offer important resources for marriage. The programs within religious communities that support families and marriages, the teachings on love and sacrifice, the prohibitions against infidelity and divorce, and greater levels of life satisfaction and lower depression within married life may all be important mechanisms and resources by which religious community protects against divorce.


Li S, Kubzansky LD, VanderWeele TJ (2018) Religious service attendance, divorce, and remarriage among U.S. nurses in mid and late life. PLoS ONE 13(11): e0207778. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0207778 

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Last Updated on December 5, 2018 by Marie Benz MD FAAD