Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Soul Mates, by W. Bradford Wilcox and Nicholas Wolfinger

It's no secret that marriage has declined in the U.S.  It's also generally accepted that marriage lends stability and social improvement.  Given these general ideas, sociologists W. Bradford Wilcox and Nicholas Wolfinger investigated the impact of religion on marriage among African-Americans and Latinos.  They write about their conclusions in Soul Mates: Religion, Sex, Love, and Marriage among African Americans and Latinos.

Drawing on a wide variety of polling data, as well as personal interviews, Wilcox and Wolfinger concluded that "religion is a force for good in African American and Latino family life." However, they are careful to point out that "although religion benefits many Latino and African American families, it is neither a panacea nor a one-size-fits-all solution."

They provide lots of charts and figures to bolster their claims, but the interviews more effectively personalize the statistics they cite.  We hear not only the stories of couples whose lives were turned around because of their religious involvement, but others whose lives do not conform to typical religious norms.  All told, those who become involved in religious activity are less likely to be involved in the street subculture ("Del mundo" as Latinos say), which includes, infidelity, drugs and alcohol abuse, and crime and imprisonment.

Some of their findings surprised me.  Even though the impact and influence of religion is clear and demonstrable, it is not as significant as I would have thought.  For example, those who are involved in religious activities are less likely to divorce, have children outside of marriage, and be incarcerated, but not by as big a margin as you might expect.  I was also surprised that the impact tends to be be smaller for blacks than whites.  There are, of course, cultural and societal structures that cause that to be the case.  Wilcox and Wolfinger's research, unfortunately, provides a bit of validation to stereotypes about minorities, specifically surrounding participation in "street culture."

The bottom line is the religion definitely tends to be a good thing for couples.  Broadly speaking, they found that "people who attend church regularly are less likely to report being unhappy."  There's a good reason to go to church!  More specifically, they have a word of advice for couples: they identify "two of the mechanisms through which religious participation improves relationship quality: religious friends and shared prayer.  Latino and black couples who attend church together enjoy significantly happier relationships, in large part because they socialize with friends who share their faith and especially because they pray with one another."  So let's go to church, honey, and later we'll pray together!

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

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