A study by three scholars of data from two large surveys conducted in 11 countries encompassing the Americas, Europe and Oceania found that the happiest couples are the most religious.
“In many respects, this report indicates that faith is a force for good in contemporary family life in the Americas, Europe, and Oceania. Men and women who share an active religious life, for instance, enjoy higher levels of relationship quality and sexual satisfaction compared to their peers in secular or less/mixed religious relationships,” the authors report.
The study — “The Ties That Bind: Is Faith A Global Force For Good Or Ill In The Family?” — by co-authors W. Bradford Wilcox, Jason S. Carroll, and Laurie DeRose examined data from the World Values Survey (WVS) and the Global Family and Gender Survey (GFGS).
The conclusions of the study are contrary to the popular culture and academic conventional wisdom that gaining the most happiness in life requires liberation from repressive religious beliefs and traditional customs.
“When it comes to relationship quality in heterosexual relationships, highly religious couples enjoy higher-quality relationships and more sexual satisfaction, compared to less/mixed religious couples and secular couples,” the authors said.
“For instance, women in highly religious relationships are about 50% more likely to report that they are strongly satisfied with their sexual relationship than their secular and less religious counterparts,” they said.
“Highly religious couples enjoy higher-quality relationships and more sexual satisfaction, compared to less/mixed religious couples and secular couples.”
Faith is also a key factor in maintaining healthy fertility rates, according to the study’s findings.
“When it comes to fertility, data from low-fertility countries in the Americas, East Asia, and Europe show that religion’s positive influence on fertility has become stronger in recent decades,” the study said. “Today, people ages 18-49 who attend religious services regularly have 0.27 more children than those who never, or practically never, attend.”
Low birth rates are associated with an aging population, which in turn creates multiple economic, social and other problems, especially for younger segments.
But there was one negative finding in the study: Couples with strong faith practices are no less likely to experience interpersonal violence than those from highly secularized relationships.
“When it comes to domestic violence, religious couples in heterosexual relationships do not have an advantage over secular couples or less/mixed religious couples,” the study reported.
“Measures of intimate partner violence (IPV) — which includes physical abuse, as well as sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and controlling behaviors — do not differ in a statistically significant way by religiosity.”
“There are a number of implications of this study that are of particular relevance to men and women working on Capitol Hill.”
The authors go on to point out, though, that “religion is not an increased risk factor for domestic violence in these countries, either.”
Go here for the complete study, beginning with the executive summary from which the above quotes were drawn.
There are a number of implications of this study that are of particular relevance to men and women working on Capitol Hill. On the personal side, everybody wants to be happy, so coming to terms with the spiritual side of things is a prerequisite.
On the professional side, the list of potential policy implications of the study is lengthy, to say the least. Just to take the most obvious, if greater happiness is found among the strongly religious, what should or can government do to encourage and protect sources of faith?