June 2, 2015

Interfaith marriage is common in U.S., particularly among the recently wed

Marrying within the faith is still common in the United States, with nearly seven-in-ten married people (69%) saying that their spouse shares their religion, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. But a comparison of recent and older marriages shows that having a spouse of the same religion may be less important to many Americans today than it was decades ago.

Interfaith MarriageOur Religious Landscape Study found that almost four-in-ten Americans (39%) who have married since 2010 have a spouse who is in a different religious group. By contrast, only 19% of those who wed before 1960 report being in a religious intermarriage.

Many of these recent interfaith marriages are between Christians and the religiously unaffiliated (sometimes called “nones”). Of all U.S. adults married since 2010, almost one-in-five (18%) are in marriages between a Christian and a religiously unaffiliated spouse. This is true for only 5% of those who married before 1960.

Some research suggests that marriages between members of the same religious group may be more durable than intermarriages. If this is true, the rise in religious intermarriage over time may not be as pronounced as it appears, since the Religious Landscape Study measures only marriages intact today (i.e., it is possible there were more intermarriages before 1960 that have since ended in divorce).

In any case, interfaith relationships are even more common today among unmarried people living with a romantic partner than among those who are married. Nearly half (49%) of unmarried couples are living with someone of a different faith.

The survey also shows that members of certain religious groups are more likely than others to be with someone of their faith, whether they are married or living together in a romantic relationship. For example, more than three-quarters of U.S. Hindus (91%), Mormons (82%) and Muslims (79%) who are married or living with a partner are with someone of the same religion. This is somewhat less common among Jews (65%), mainline Protestants (59%) and religiously unaffiliated people (56%).

Topics: Intermarriage, Marriage and Divorce, Religion and Society, Religious Affiliation, Religious Beliefs and Practices

  1. is a senior writer/ editor focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.

6 Comments

  1. Grace Kessler1 year ago

    In her book on religious intermarriage Naomi Schaffer Riley claims that there are differences in divorce rates between people of the same-same marriages and intermarriages. She seems to have done her own survey and I’m wondering if you have any more substantial data on this.

    Thanks!

    1. Caryle Murphy1 year ago

      Hello Grace,
      Thanks for your question. Pew Research Center has not done any research into that question. However, I would point you to a footnote on page 45 of our 2014 Religious Landscape Study here: pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas…. The footnote refers to an article on the subject of interfaith marriage by Darren E. Sherkat.
      Caryle

  2. Don Heisel2 years ago

    Thanks for a useful report.
    Two questions:
    –How do you classify a marriage between two unaffiliated persons? As same religion?
    –To what extent is the increase in Christian-unaffiliated due to the substantial increase in unaffiliateds (formerly referred to as ‘nones’) in the total population?

    1. Caryle Murphy2 years ago

      Hello Don,
      Thanks for reading FactTank and for the questions.
      Yes, for this survey we considered a marriage between two unaffiliated people as a marriage between people of the same religion.
      And the significant increase in couples composed of a Christian and a religiously unaffiliated person does appear linked to the growth of unaffiliated persons, also sometimes called ‘nones,’ who now make up nearly 23% of the U.S. adult population. Among couples married since 2010, 15% are between Christians from different Christian traditions and 18% are between a Christian and a ‘none.’
      Caryle Murphy

  3. Dave Nuckols2 years ago

    How do Evangelical Protestants compare, in terms of intermarriage, compare to Mainline Protestants?

    Any insight into how these numbers are affected by diverse proportions of evangelicals-vs-mainliners within formal denominations (e.g., United Methodists) that have many denominational members identifying in both camps?

    1. Caryle Murphy2 years ago

      Dave,

      Thanks for the question. Our survey found that among Evangelical Protestants, 75% have a spouse of the same religion, 17% are married to someone of a different faith, and only 7% are wed to someone who has no religious affiliation. Meanwhile, among Mainline Protestants, 59% have a spouse of the same faith, 29% are married to someone of a different faith, and 13% are wed to an unaffiliated person. (see chart on p. 47 of report at: pewforum.org/files/2015/05/RLS-0…)

      As for your second question, as much as possible, respondents to the survey are categorized according to the denomination with which they self-identified. For example, all United Methodists are categorized as part of the Mainline tradition, and all Southern Baptists are categorized as part of the Evangelical tradition. The report includes a discussion of alternative ways of defining Protestant traditions and assessing the degree of overlap among them. See pages 31-32 and 100-111.