Statistics Canada, The Daily, Tuesday, September 15, 1998

Religious observance, marriage and family 1995

Canadians who attend religious services every week report having happier, less stressful lives and happier relationships with their partners than those who do not attend services at all. Weekly attenders of religious services also placed greater importance on marriage and family than those who did not attend. While religion may be a source of conflict in some relationships, it seems that regular attendance at religious services is related to happier marriages. The odds of having a very happy marital relationship were 1.5 times greater for people who attended religious services weekly than for those who did not attend at all (after accounting for differences in age, education, income, religion, province, employment status and the decade when the marriage began).

Accounting for similar socio-demographic factors, the odds of a marriage dissolving for those attending religious services every week were less than half of those who never attended. For example, among people who married in the 1970s, 16% of the marriages of those who attended religious services weekly did not last 15 years compared with 34% of non-attenders' marriages.

Those who attend religious services weekly were more likely to want to keep the family together.

About 57% of people who attended religious services weekly reported that they would stay married for the sake of the children compared with 36% of those who did not attend religious services.

Weekly attenders were less likely to view lack of love and respect, and a partner's drinking too much as sufficient grounds for divorce. However, religious people were just as unwilling to forgive a spouse's unfaithful behaviour as those who did not attend religious services.

Note to readers - This release is based on an article in Canadian Social Trends, Statistics Canada.

The article uses data from the 1995 General Social Survey (GSS) to examine the relationship between attendance at religious services and people's health, well-being and attitudes toward marriage and family and people's marital longevity. The 1995 GSS collected data about family history and social support, as well as attitudes toward such issues as work and family. The survey interviewed about 10,000 people aged 15 and over living in private households in the 10 provinces, representing over 23 million people. Other data from the 1995 GSS have already been released.

Respondents rated factors important to their happiness using a four-point scale, with zero meaning not at all important and three meaning very important. Similarly, attitudes toward men's and women's roles in the family and at work were measured using a five-point scale from strongly disagree (0) to strongly agree (4). Average scores of responses for these scales were calculated for various sub-groups of the adult population (e.g., men, women, those who attend religious services every week). When comparing scores between sub-groups, a group having a higher score than another group places more importance on a factor contributing to happiness or has stronger agreement with a statement on male or female roles.

Table: Percent who agree that the following are sufficient reasons to split up a marriage or common-law relationship
Reasons                         Attended            Never    
                               religious         attended    
                                services        religious    
                                  weekly         services    
                                                last year    

                            (% of population age 15 and      
Abusive behaviour                     92               96    
Unfaithful behaviour                  86(1)            88(1) 
Lack of love and       
  respect                             76               92    
Partner drinks too much               68               75    


(1)  Difference not statistically significant.

Marriage and family are more important to weekly attenders

Being married and having children was more important to those who attended religious services every week than non-attenders. On a four-point scale measuring the importance of marriage, weekly attenders scored 2.4 versus 1.8 for non-attenders. Similarly, measuring the importance of having at least one child, weekly attenders scored 2.3 versus 2.0 for non-attenders.

Those who attended religious services every week were more likely to agree with the statement that "a job is alright but what women really want is a home and children" than those who never attended. On a five-point scale measuring the level of agreement with this statement, weekly attenders scored 2.3 while non-attenders scored 1.9.

On other issues, however, the attitudes of weekly attenders and non-attenders were alike. Both had similar opinions that men and women should contribute to the household income and both groups generally agreed that men should share in raising the children. Both also viewed having a lasting relationship as important to their happiness.

Some of the difference between attenders and non-attenders was due to age differences between the two groups. Young people have different values than older individuals and were less likely to attend religious services regularly. Nevertheless, most differences remained statistically significant after accounting for age.