The Couple That Prays Together
Special Report - August 26, 2010
Couples from all racial and ethic backgrounds who attend church and pray together on a regular basis enjoy higher levels of relationship quality, according to a new study published this month in the Journal of Marriage and Family. The study, “The Couple That Prays Together: Race and Ethnicity, Religion, and Relationship Quality Among Working-Age Adults,” is based on data from the 2006 National Survey of Religion and Family Life, which surveyed over 1,300 adults ages 18 to 35 by phone about their relationships. The majority of the survey respondents, or 89 percent, were married. The study’s lead author was Christopher Ellison, a fellow of the National Marriage Project (NMP) at the University of Virginia, and professor of social science at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
Interestingly, the study found that African American couples “derive the most benefits” from the connection between shared religious activity and relationship quality, in part, because they are more likely to attend church and pray together than White or Latino couples (although Latino couples are also slightly more likely than White couples to go to church and pray together). In the study, 40 percent of African Americans said they attended services regularly as a couple, compared to 29 percent of whites, 31 percent of Mexicans (or Mexican Americans), and 32 percent of all respondents.
The authors of the study note that while “African-Americans reported being significantly less happy than whites” in the study, “after controlling for age, education and income, the racial differences disappear.” According to W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the NMP at the University of Virginia who co-authored the study with Professor Ellison, this is known as the “African American religion-marriage paradox.”
“Without prayer, black couples would be doing significantly worse than white couples. This study shows that religion narrows the racial divide in relationship quality in America,” Wilcox said in a press release. “The vitality of African-Americans’ religious lives gives them an advantage over other Americans when it comes to relationships. This advantage puts them on par with other couples.”
Among all couples in the study, African American couples were also the most likely to report praying together and reading scripture togetherother shared religious activities that the study linked to higher relationship quality among couples. “The closer you get to the home, the more powerful the beneficial effects,” Wilcox explained. “It makes sense that those who think about, talk about and practice their beliefs in the home, those who bring home their reflections on their marriage, derive stronger effects from those beliefs, especially compared to those who simply attend church weekly.”
The study concludes that, “religion can be especially important within racial and ethnic minority populations, for whom religious resources and worldviews can counter the effects of structural barriers and other obstacles to relationship quality.”
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