Religion and Marriage Attitudes: Evidence from the European Social Survey

Aart Liefbroer, Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute (NIDI-KNAW)
Arieke Rijken, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

In Christianity, like in most other religions, marriage is highly valued. We investigate how Christian religion influences marriage attitudes. We address three issues. First, which aspect of religion matters most: simply adhering to Christianity, denomination (Catholicism, Protestantism, Eastern-Orthodoxy), or level of religiosity (religious identification and active involvement)? Second, we investigate contextual influence of religion on marital attitudes by including aggregated indicators of religion at the regional level. Third, we investigate the interaction between individual and regional religiosity. It could be that religious people living in a secular environment adapt their family attitudes and become more similar to the non-religious. The opposite could also be true, with religious people being more prone to stress their religious identity–and concomitant attitudes–in a secular context than in a more religious context. Hypotheses were tested using data from the 3rd wave of the ESS in which questions on people’s attitudes towards divorce, non-marital cohabitation and childbearing in non-marital cohabitation were posed. We estimated three-level regression models, with 43,242 individuals nested in 226 regions, nested in 25 countries. From the results we conclude: At the individual level, only the level of religiosity matters, denomination does not. When level of religiosity is taken into account, none of the denominations differ in marriage values from those who do not identify with a religious denomination. The same applies to the regional level: the average level of religiosity has a positive effect on traditional marriage values. Regional effects of the relative size of the different denominations (% members) disappear when average level religiosity is included. Finally, the effect of individual religiosity is stronger in more religious regions, which could reflect an internal secularization process: norms that are thought to be linked religion loose part of their relevance even among believers, particularly among those living in a rather secularized environment.

Presented in Session 5: Changing Family Values and Behaviour