Monday, January 14, 2013

Divorce Undermines Children's Trust in Other Institutions, Too

Yesterday I wrote about the new report "Does the Shape of Families Shape Faith?"

Today I want to connect that report with other recent research on young people and institutions.

Divorced kids are less likely to become churched adults.  Yet these unchurched adults are not usually atheists.  They are just disappointed with and suspicious of the institution of religion.

Divorced kids are also less likely to get married. Yet they are not against romance, parenthood, or even the idea of permanent pair bonding.  They are just disappointed with and suspicious of the institution of marriage.

A recent study from the Pew Research Center, led by Robert Putnam of Bowling Alone fame, found that a fifth of Americans say they have no religious affiliation. Yet most of them believe in God and think of themselves as in some way spiritual. They are religious, but decline to register with a religious institution, in the same way that they are political, but decline to register with a political party. This is especially true of young people.

My best guess is that the young people are reluctant to trust institutions because they were divorced upon in their childhood, or never saw their parents even attempt marriage in the first place.  The experience of family is more basic than the experience of other institutions, and the decline in marriage precedes the decline in religious and political affiliation.

The shape of families not only shapes faith, it shapes children's trust of all institutions.


Juliana Eilert said...
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MMMSecret said...

Does this trend hold true in more liberal areas and more liberal religious communities? It seems to me that a significant part of this "distrust" of institutions, particularly political parties and churches come as a result of the judgement that too many of our politicians and religious communities have of people who are single or divorced parents. Chilren could be losing faith, not as a result of the divorce (or singlehood of the parent) but as a direct result of observing the way these institutions judge their parents.

gruntled said...

That could be, but I think not. Divorce, and even single parenthood, has become so normalized that it is does not seem to carry much stigma even in churches. In fact, evangelical churches are more likely to have ministries to divorced people and single parents than mainline churches are.

MMMSecret said...

Perhaps now divorce and single parenthood is more "normalized" but I suspect that was less the case when the adults in the study were children.

You're a relatively liberal fellow, but you still just think single parenthood is simply "tolerable", conservatives, I suspect are much less accepting.

I also wonder if these ministries to divorced people aren't just slightly less insidious than the "conversion therapy" inflicted by certain conservative groups on gays. Both these seem to be ways to single these folks out and tell them they are "less than"- but perhaps if they just love Jesus enough He will fix that.

I also think it has a deep impact on both the children and the parent (and the children notice the impact on a parent) when people, and particularly institutions, take positions that someone's family unit is "broken" or even simply "tolerable", but clearly less than the traditional marriage that the institution holds as sacred and required for a whole family.