Sociologist says faith is a family-friendly force for African-Americans and Latinos

January 18, 2016 by Anne E. Bromley

"By 2050, a majority of Americans will be minorities. Yet scholars know little about faith and family life among non-white Americans," said University of Virginia sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox.

But he and collaborator Nicholas H. Wolfinger of the University of Utah have found that African-American and Latino couples who attend church together experience happier relationships and . They make the case in their new book, "Soul Mates: Religion, Sex, Love, and Marriage Among African Americans and Latinos" – the first study of religion and family life among blacks and Latinos, the authors say.

Faith can furnish a beneficial, sturdy path for African-Americans and Latinos, who tend to face more challenges than other Americans – from racism to poverty, Wilcox and Wolfinger found. Religion doesn't offer a magic pill for successful living, but church participation is clearly associated with positive outcomes in relationships and family life. This bears out even in the midst of lower marriage rates and higher cohabiting rates among blacks and Latinos, as well as among whites.

Pursuing the question "Is religion achieving success in creating the conditions where relationships, marriages and families can flourish in black and Latino communities?" Wilcox and Wolfinger analyzed six national data sets and conducted more than a hundred interviews in several cities. They included information from Wilcox's year (2005-2006) of fieldwork in Harlem, Brooklyn and the Bronx, during which time he visited churches and spoke with clergy and parishioners.

"One big reason so many families of color are thriving is that they tend to be more religious than the average American," said Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project. An estimated 50,000 congregations serve blacks and Latinos in the United States, where 36 percent of African-Americans and 29 percent of Latinos attend church frequently (several times a month or more).

"Our book shows that churches are achieving an important measure of success in fostering lower rates of non-marital childbearing, more marriage, and happier relationships among blacks and Latinos," the authors write. Unmarried churchgoers are also more likely to get married compared to similar couples who do not regularly darken the door of a church, they write.

When it comes to "family values," a clear majority of blacks and Latinos value marriage more than single living, and most will marry at some point in their lives. In fact, 56 percent of blacks and 68 percent of Latinos feel it is better to be married than to be single, compared to 54 percent of whites. Wilcox and Wolfinger consider social, cultural, historical and economic factors that help and hinder marriage and its stability.

"Soul Mates" found that 80 percent of Latinos report being happy in their relationships when both partners attend church, compared to 71 percent for Latino couples who don't go to church. With black couples, 78 percent who attended church reported being happy while the figure for non-church going couples drops to 69 percent. (The figures for white couples are 79 percent and 70 percent, respectively.)

Another point Wilcox emphasized is the influence of religion on men.

He and Wolfinger argue that "shared faith supplies moral, social and spiritual solidarity and that religion seems especially important in turning men's hearts and minds toward their wives or partners." Churches foster an ethic of care and reinforce a code of decency, they write.

They define "code of decency" as "hard work, lawful behavior, temperance, and sexual fidelity in married and unmarried relationships."

"Religious faith makes for better men," Wilcox said. "Black and Latino men who attend are more likely to be employed, to steer clear of substance abuse, and to avoid incarceration. This men's effect lends indirect support to higher quality family relationships among black and Latino families." In fact, young men of color are about 30 percent less likely to end up idle (out of work and out of school) if they are regular churchgoers, compared to their peers who are not regular churchgoers.

Because of these findings, the authors conclude that religion is a family-friendly force among African-Americans and Latinos.

Explore further: Affordable Care Act has reduced racial/ethnic health disparities, study shows

Related Stories

Premarital births no longer predict breakups

September 30, 2015

Examining changes in parental unions near the time of childbirth, social science researchers have found that premarital births do not predict breakups so long as couples marry – at some point – after a child is born.

Less educated Americans turning their backs on religion

August 21, 2011

While religious service attendance has decreased for all white Americans since the early 1970s, the rate of decline has been more than twice as high for those without college degrees compared to those who graduated from college, ...

Recommended for you

Amber specimen offers rare glimpse of feathered dinosaur tail

December 8, 2016

Researchers have discovered a dinosaur tail complete with its feathers trapped in a piece of amber. The finding reported in Current Biology on December 8 helps to fill in details of the dinosaurs' feather structure and evolution, ...

Scheduling leisure activities makes them less fun: study

December 8, 2016

Nothing ruins a potentially fun event like putting it on your calendar. In a series of studies, researchers found that scheduling a leisure activity like seeing a movie or taking a coffee break led people to anticipate less ...

3 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
5 / 5 (1) Jan 18, 2016
It is a pushed book, not a peer reviewed paper. So we have to wait for the peer review to see if it is worth considering.

Some obvious problems are that the authors seem to disregard partnerships, non-religious marriages, and shared non-faith as worth study, nor do they seem to study cause and effect. If "religious faith makes for better men", how come an over-represented group in US prisons are religious while conversely the relative percentage of atheists is far less than their proportion in society? (I.e. only ~ 0.4 % of prisoners declare themselves atheist vs ~ 4 % of all US citizens.)

[tbctd]
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
5 / 5 (1) Jan 18, 2016
[ctd]

As problematic and very robust data against the hypothesis of the book it is known from global statistics that religious countries are more unhappy. It is a very strong factor, potentially explaining over 50 % of the unhappiness! "While the data support the hypothesis that unhappiness makes or keeps people religious, it also supports the hypothesis that religion makes people unhappy. " [ https://whyevolut...ppiness/ ]
classicplastic
not rated yet Jan 19, 2016
The difference in outcome between the faith and non-faith are actually fairly small, about 10% and nearly approaching the statistical margin of error.

The big problem with doing the right things for the wrong reasons is that it sets people up to do the wrong things for the "right" reasons. Faith is nothing more than emotional Bondo.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.