Do Republicans Have Happier Marriages Than Democrats?

September 10, 2015 | Kelly Tatera

Bride and groom.

A new sociology study links Republican views to marital satisfaction. But is politics the key to a successful marriage, or are race and religion bigger factors?

A new study by sociologists W. Bradford Wilcox and Nicholas Wolfinger determined that Republicans are more likely to be married, less likely to divorce, and more likely to be happy in their marriages than Democrats. Prior to this study, Wilcox had written two papers about how children in conservative states are more likely to grow up with both parents than in liberal ones. Could political stance really have an effect on a couple’s potential to have a happy marriage?

The issue is more layered than politics, and includes underlying racial and religious factors as well. But numbers don’t lie—the analysis published on the Institute for Family Studies shows that 57 percent of Republicans are married as opposed to 40 percent of Democrats; 41 percent of Republicans have gone through a divorce, compared to 47 percent of Democrats; and, 67 percent of married Republicans claim to be in “very happy” marriages, compared to 60 percent of married Democrats.

The researchers speculate that the Republican-Democrat marriage gap could stem from altering attitudes toward life in general rather than the quality of the marriage. In the article, they write that perhaps Republicans are more optimistic and likely to “look at their marriage through rose-colored glasses.” However, it’s also likely that conservative communities have more of a respect for the conventional idea of marriage due to more conservative religious beliefs, which in turn affect their behavior and attitudes toward their marriages.

While marriage satisfaction can be partially attributed to religious differences, race may also play a role. Photo: DonkeyHotey, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Based on the findings of various studies in the past, churchgoing is associated with happier marriages, especially for couples who attend church together. Those who practice conservative religion embody more of a normative and ritual support for marriage and family lives because they believe much more strongly against religious sins like adultery. Conservatives may think of marriage in a more positive light while liberals may eventually end up feeling like the lifelong commitment intrudes upon individual freedom.

Race also factors into the issue since more Republicans tend to be white, which could lead to fewer marital strains from society. “One reason Republicans have happier marriages,” the report suggests, “is that, as a party with a larger share of white couples, they are less likely to face the discrimination, segregation and poverty that minority couples often experience in America, all of which can compromise the quality of married life.”

The study analyzed data in the General Social Survey of 20 to 60 year olds from 2010 to 2014, one of the largest surveys of Americans. However, it’s possible that Republicans could also be self-reporting that they are “very happy” in their marriages when, in fact, they aren’t. It’s important to consider the fact that sometimes people lie in surveys due to feeling pushed toward an answer that is “correct” by moral/societal standards.

So, are red states really happier with their marriages than blue? The data seems so argue so, but there more complicated factors that contribute to the level of happiness in a marriage than can be holistically determined through a survey. However, it’s significant to note what these studies do highlight: Republicans are inclined to value more conservative attitudes about marriage and family life that seem to foster happier marriages and more secure family structures. These factors may contribute to a more stable marriage overall. But what makes people truly happy? It’s different for every individual and married couple, and survey data can’t account for the complicated ties of each and every love affair.

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