NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Marriage, Divorce And Poverty In The Bible Belt

May 21, 2001

The rate of failed marriages doubled from the early 1960s to 1980, reaching a point where about 43 percent of marriages ended in divorce, demographers report. Since then, the rate has leveled off -- but at a historically high plateau.

States in the Bible Belt -- most notably Oklahoma, Tennessee and Arkansas -- have the highest divorce rates in the nation. They are roughly 50 percent above the national average. Those are also states that have high proportions of unmarried couples living together. Such statistics have politicians and clergy in those states deeply concerned.

  • For example, the number of divorces per 1,000 Oklahomans stood at 6.5 in 1998 -- compared to a national average in 1996 of 4.3 divorces per 1,000.
  • The 2000 census found that in the 1990s, the number of unmarried couples living together jumped by 97 percent in Oklahoma, 125 percent in Arkansas and 123 percent in Tennessee -- compared to 72 percent for the nation as a whole.
  • Noting that about three-quarters of Oklahomans are married in church and 70 percent go to church once a week or more, Gov. Frank Keating (R) diagnoses divorce as a leading cause of poverty in his state.

"We know what the cause of poverty is in this country and, like it or not, it's divorce and nonwedlock childbearing," says University of Virginia sociologist and demographer Steve Nock.

He says that for every three divorces, one family ends up below the poverty line.

Source: Blaine Harden, "Bible Belt Couples 'Put Asunder' More, Despite New Efforts," New York Times, May 21, 2001.


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