Bible Belt Leads U.S. In Divorces

November 19, 1999

Aside from the quickie-divorce Mecca of Nevada, no region of the United States has a higher divorce rate than the Bible Belt. Nearly half of all marriages break up, but the divorce rates in these southern states are roughly 50 percent above the national average.

According to federal figures:

  • Nationally, there were about 4.2 divorces for every thousand people in 1998.
  • The rate was 8.5 per thousand in Nevada, 6.4 in Tennessee, 6.1 in Arkansas, 6.0 in Alabama and Oklahoma.
  • Of southeastern states, only South Carolina's rate of 3.8 was below the national average.
  • By contrast, the divorce rate is less than 3.0 in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York.

Why so many divorces in the Bible Belt?

Experts cite low household incomes (Oklahoma ranks 46th and Arkansas 47th), and a tendency for couples to marry at a younger age than in many other states.

Religion may play a role, since some of the lowest divorce rates are in northeastern states with relatively high household incomes and large numbers of Roman Catholics whose church doesn't recognize divorce.

Bible Belt states, in contrast, are dominated by fundamentalist Protestant denominations that proclaim the sanctity of marriage but generally do not want to estrange churchgoers who do divorce.

No state has been more embarrassed by the divorce problem than Oklahoma. Over the past few months, Gov. Frank Keating has enlisted clergymen, academics, lawyers and psychologists in a campaign to reduce the divorce rate by a third within 10 years. In neighboring Arkansas, state officials hope to halve the divorce rate by 2010.

Source: David Crary, "Bible Belt Leads U.S. in Divorces," Associated Press, November 12, 1999.

 

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