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Religion carries weight in decisions about marriage and kids

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 2 2013 5:20 p.m. MDT

Recent studies say those who place higher importance on religion are more likely to make decisions based on religious beliefs. How does religion impact the choices of believers when it comes to choosing a spouse and having kids?

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Lynn Jones was 15 when she started searching for "the one."

She said she prayed to God consistently, asking who her soul mate was and when she'd meet him. Jones always planned on getting married, but she just wanted it to be to the right person — the one God wanted, she said.

And then, one night at a Christian coffee house, an ant, so small and coy, crawled across the floor and largely reshaped Jones' life.

That ant pedaled over from the other side of the room where her future husband was sitting.

"I brought him his ant back," she joked, and that's how she met Eric.

Now, 34 years after marrying at the age of 20, the 54-year-old Jones is still enjoying her marriage.

Jones' consulting her religious beliefs in her quest for marriage isn't out of the ordinary. Based on a recent study published in The Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, experts say those who find religion important in their lives are especially likely to make decisions based on their religious beliefs.

And making choices about marriage and kids based on religion has hatched more happiness in the home, according the Portraits of American Life Study (PALS), which looked at religion's influence on decision-making. The study suggested marriages and relationships have been more successful and stable when partners consider their religious beliefs.

This comes despite a recent Gallup poll saying Americans feel religion is losing influence. The poll found 77 percent of those who attend church weekly, 72 percent of those who attend nearly weekly/monthly and 79 percent of those who attend less often all felt religion is losing its grip on people’s lives.

But religion's influence hasn't vanished, and many are still basing major life decisions on religious doctrine and tradition — including decisions about marriage and childbirth.

These decisions, it seems, are creating happier homes.

Wedding bells

Jones and her husband, Eric, worked together in ministries for a number of years before being married. It was that experience that helped her realize he was her future.

“We sort of tag-teamed well together," Jones said.

And, Jones said, she heard no disapproval from God, which meant she was on the right track.

“We just didn’t hear an absolute ‘no' (from God). And sometimes a ‘no’ is louder than a ‘yes,’ ” Jones said.

A team of researchers from Brandeis University analyzed religion’s influence on choices about marriage. After analyzing data from the first wave of research by PALS, the Brandeis study on religion's impact on decision-making found that those with reliance on religion are three times more likely to use their religious beliefs to make decisions on marriage.

“Religion seems to motivate people in unpredictable ways,” said Emily Sigalow, a graduate student at Brandeis University.

Sigalow saw both predicted and unpredicted outcomes from the study initially done by PALS. “It was predictable in that we found people who place more importance on religion allow it to have more influence in their lives,” Sigalow said.

One main example was the study found those with similar dimensions of religiosity — like their affiliation, commitment and beliefs — promote a greater degree of marital success and more stable marriages. Or, like in the case of Jones, happiness in the home.

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