For the Love or God: Questioning the Popular Fallacy that the Reported Low Rates of Marital Quality in Religiously Heterogamous Couples Are Due to Differences in Religious Beliefs
by Amina Samy


Throughout history, changes in the economy and global world order have had profound impacts on family structure and formation; today’s globalized, multi-cultural world is no exception. In recent years, studies have shown an increase in the number intermarriages- particularly religious intermarriage- as well as decreased rates of marital quality. In popular and political culture, it is widely and erroneously believed that this infers causality.   This paper questions the popular fallacy that the reported low rates of marital quality in religiously heterogamous couples are due to differences in religious beliefs, while shedding light on neglected factors that can help us understand these phenomena better.

In today’s world, jargon such as globalization, modernization, neo-liberalism and mass-communication have become increasingly popular parts of our lexicon- words that in our parent's day were rarely used and in our grandparents’ generation barely existed. These few examples of vocabulary changes only begin to demonstrate just how much our world has transformed over the generations. Unsurprisingly, these economic changes have brought about subsequent shifts in the social and demographic environment, transforming the notions and understanding of the modern family to some extent. One such shift is the increased prevalence of intermarriages (or mixed marriages) which is defined as “marriages in which there are significant, obvious, and unusual differences between the spouses, other than sex” (Landis 1949, 401). The existence and increasing popularity of such unions bears the potential of generating further cultural and socio-economic change, given that they forge an intimate link between otherwise differentiated social groups  (Kalmijn 1998, 396). Due to this, sociological literature and research on intermarriages has risen significantly over recent decades. Examples of such unions include those where the partners are of different socio-economic, ethnic, cultural or- of particular interest to these paper- religious backgrounds; these are known as heterogamous unions.

Religion has played and continues to play an important role in the lives of many individuals and societies, and as such is an arguably significant factor in both mate selection and marital quality. As Heller and Wood argue, “one source of common bonding, or congruence, between marital partners is in religious values and mores” (Heller and Wood 2000, 242). Because of this, the majority of Canadian couples are in religiously homogamous[1] unions, where both partners are from the same broad-religious group. (Clark 2006, 17).

As Parsons, Nalbone, Kilmer and Wetchler argue, “marital quality and religion have been linked throughout time” (Parsons, et al. 2007, 349). For ease of clarity, marital quality can be divided into marital satisfaction and marital intimacy. Marital satisfaction can be understood as “the ability to have role flexibility, open communication, and low emotional reactivity with one’s spouse” (Parsons, et al. 2007, 350). Whereas the concept of marital intimacy is more multidimensional, describing a process that “relates to the promotion of closeness, bondedness and connectedness between spouses” (Heller and Wood 2000, 241); it is valued because it demonstrates “the couple’s commitment to sustaining their relationship” (Heller and Wood 2000, 241). For the purpose of this paper, the marital quality of couples will be assessed using divorce rates or dissolution rates.

To date, there has been little systematic research on predictors of marital quality in interreligious marriages. As Kalmijn points out, “existing research on religious intermarriage has been concerned with the extent to which churches control the life choices of their members and the degree to which religious involvement translates into the membership of communal groups” (Kalmijn 1998, 396). However, what little research exists indicates a “strong and enduring link between religious homogamy and marital quality” (Myers 2006, 292) and suggests that interreligious unions are less likely to survive than homogamous unions (Clark 2006, 19, Landis 1949, 406, Parsons, et al. 2007, 348, Kalmijn 1998, 397). Furthermore, it is implied that there is a notably lower level of marital satisfaction and intimacy (Parsons, et al. 2007, 349, Myers 2006, 298, Heller and Wood 2000, 242), and higher levels of “marital discord” (Landis 1949, 401, Lehrer and Chiswick 1993, 388) and “marital conflict among couples with different theological beliefs” (Myers 2006, 293).

In this paper, I intend to challenge some of the ideas and claims laid out above. Mainly, I will be questioning the erroneous notion that the reported low rates of marital quality in religiously heterogamous couples are caused by differences in religious beliefs. Evidence shows that religious authority and inclination are declining, and indicates that other socio-economic and cultural factors play a larger role in explaining this reported trend of low marital quality, than do religious differences. Furthermore, do religiously heterogamous couples actually demonstrate lower levels of marital quality as commonly perceived? I intend to analyze and critique existing research and methodology to disprove this claim.

To assist in tackling these questions, a series of shorter questions will be answered. Firstly, what are the socio-cultural, demographic and economic factors that affect the occurrence and prevalence of religiously heterogamous unions? Secondly, how are these factors more relevant in explaining the reported high rates of marital discontent amongst such couples than religious differences?

I will also analyze and point out the limitations in existing research that weaken the claims that interreligious unions are less likely to survive than religious homogamous ones, and suggest some focus areas for further research that can help shed some light on issues related to religious heterogamy.

The Significance of Religious Homogamy in Mate Selection

Along with the dynamic economic changes outlined in the opening paragraph, the Western hemisphere has seen a growth in secular[2] ideology and religious identification has been weakened within their societies. Despite this, the prevalence of religious endogamy[3] is persisting and supposedly remains “a characteristic that is important in the search for a partner” (Clark 2006, 17).

As Kalmijn points out, religious factors play a significant role in the so-called marriage market. The marriage market theory suggests that unmarried adults operate “within a marriage market where each individual considers a set of potential spouses.” (Kalmijn 1998, 398). This market, like others, is competitive and therefore participants compete based on what they have and what they can offer in order to get the best deal and maximize their ‘profits’. Several social forces are identified in this market, but in particular we will focus on individual preferences and group or third party influence. Religion plays a significant role in these social forces. With regards to individual preferences, research shows that preferences are largely based on similarity of values and opinions. Because of this, it is suggested that “shared religious beliefs leads to mutual confirmation of each other’s behaviour and worldviews and is attractive because it enlarges the opportunities to participate in joint activities, and creates a common basis for conversation” (Kalmijn 1998, 399). Families and religious groups/institutions also have a large role in mate selection; as pointed out, “in some religious groups a marriage outside the faith may be forbidden” (Clark 2006, 17). Even if interfaith unions are permitted they are often discouraged as will be elaborated later. Such family and group pressure promotes religious endogamy.

Although research highlights the importance of homogamy, the importance of religious homogamy remains questionable. As specified above, other forms of homogamy are important in the marriage market, most particularly socio-economic homogamy. As Kalmijn points out, “several kinds of resources play a role in the choice of a spouse, but the most significant of these are socio-economic and cultural resources” (Kalmijn 1998, 398). It has been shown that educational attainment and income and economic status play very significant roles in mate selection. In order to maximize their benefits, individuals compete in the search for a spouse with the most attractive socio-economic resources. As Kalmijn points out, “the most attractive candidates select among themselves while the least attractive candidates have to rely on one another, leading to an aggregate pattern of homogamy” (Kalmijn 1998, 398). For the marriage market, religion may act as a prerequisite- or a constraint- restricting the marriage market and permitting only those of that certain faith to compete, but in itself religion is not as important a factor as socio-economic ones in determining the mate.

Furthermore, the influence and salience of third-party acceptance has declined in recent decades. Today, largely due to increasing educational attainment and changes in worldview, pre-existing behaviours and attitudes are being replaced by the younger generations including that of cultural acceptance and the growth of egoistic individualism. The children of today no longer need to rely on finding a mate within their religious (or ethnic/cultural group) or on their family’s support when it comes to mate selection. This suggests that today, religion is less significant in mate selection than it was yesterday, and further suggests that the influence of religion is declining.

Canadian Trends: Identifying and Explaining

In his investigation of Canadian couples, Clark highlighted some prevalent demographic trends related to the occurrence of interreligious marriages. His findings are summarized below, and explained in greater detail with the assistance of complementary research.

Firstly, there has been an overall rise in the number of Canadians in interreligious unions. According to Clark, nearly 20% of Canadians are interreligious unions (Clark 2006, 17). Table 1 in the appendix illustrates his findings. As we can see, the percentage of interreligious unions has increased from 15-19% between 1981 and 2001. Clark’s findings also indicate that over half of interreligious unions are between Catholics and Protestants- the two largest religious groups in Canada (Clark 2006, 17). This can be explained in part due to a notable decline in the power of religious authorities and institutions and due to increasing cultural diversity. The decline in religious authority has been evident as far back as 1951 when it was noted that “the church has less control than formerly over youth” (Thomas 1951, 491). This claim is even more valid today, and “the import of religious authority on marital quality is weaker for these younger generations than among the older generations” (Myers 2006, 294). Furthermore, there has been an overall “decline in religious affiliation” (Clark 2006, 17). Myers’ findings largely confirm this. His work has shown that religion is increasingly interpreted in individualistic and private terms and that the nature of religious interpretation today is  less religious per se and more spiritual (Myers 2006, 294). Because of this decline, religion is becoming less and less of a pertinent issue with regards to mate selection. Moreover, Clark notes that because of increasing immigration, “Canadians are becoming more tolerant of people outside their own religious group” (Clark 2006, 19) which can help us understand the rise in interreligious marriages.

Secondly, there has been a noted decline in religiosity, indicated by the high proportion of recorded interreligious unions with ‘no religion’ spouses (Clark 2006, 18). Figure 1, again, highlights this. As we can see from the table, the figures recorded for this group have been consistently higher than that of any other group. According to Clark, this may be because the availability of potential ‘no religion’ partners has increased (Clark 2006, 18) with the increase in secularization and the decline in religious affiliation detailed previously. It is now considered more socially acceptable for individuals to have no religious inclination, and as such the figures for those individuals has increased. For these individuals, religion is not a pertinent issue and there is no reason why they wouldn’t enter an interreligious union.

Third, there have been noted discrepancies in the prevalence of interreligious unions amongst different religious groups; religious groups that are more traditional in religious doctrine e.g. Conservative Protestants, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, have higher required levels of community involvement and are members of such groups are less likely to be in interreligious unions. This is also illustrated on Figure 1, and agrees with Salisbury’s claim that “group integration- how closely individuals are constrained by or bound to the religious group- largely affects the occurrence of mixed religious marriages” (Salisbury 1970, 129). Interreligious unions may be rarer amongst these groups due to “disapproval by families and communities” (Heller and Wood 2000, 242) which would pressurize the individuals away from pursuing such a relationship. In such religious groups potential group ostracising may discourage the growth of interreligious unions amongst their communities and contribute to the low rates seen in Clark’s study. Furthermore, it is argued that because of the high rates of group integration in such groups, “there are stronger feelings of group identification, and more people have internalized norms of endogamy”- meaning that they are not only less able to enter such unions, but less attracted to the option than members of other religious groups.

Fourthly, the significance of age has been noted; interreligious marriages are more frequent between younger couples, as illustrated by figure 2 (Clark 2006, 18). Although the figures reported aren’t that much higher, the proportion of young adults in interreligious unions is the highest. This agrees with Landis’ claims that the younger generations “see no practical reason why they should not enter mixed marriages” (Landis 1949, 402). Additionally, this trend may have something to do with rising immigration and the growing multi-cultural atmosphere in Canada. Today, more so than in generations past individuals are exposed to people and ideas of other cultures and religions, as previously stipulated. Because of this increased exposure at a young age, it is possible that these younger couples are more accepting of other cultures and religions than their older counterparts, and that they are therefore more likely to enter into unions with individuals from various cultural and religious backgrounds.

In addition, the significance of education level and social class has been identified. Highly educated adults and those of higher social class are more likely to be in interreligious unions than other adults (Clark 2006, 20). As Clark explains, “the quest for wider intellectual horizons and socio-economic achievement may trump the quest for religious compatibility” (Clark 2006, 20). Many studies have indicated that more highly educated individuals marry exogamously than their lesser educated peers. There has been much evidence to show that social class and levels of education go hand in hand, and it is therefore no surprise to see that social class has much the same effect as education in predicting marital trends. This is illustrated in figure 4 of the appendix; as we can see, the percentage of couples in interreligious marriages increases as social class increases (Thomas 1951, 490).

The reasoning behind this trend, as argued, is that identification with heritage and/or religious group is weakened with higher education (Kalmijn 1998, 401), implying that cultural and religious considerations are less significant in mate selection than they are for less educated individuals. Furthermore, there has been shown to be a link between education level and individualistic attitude and universalistic views (Kalmijn 1998, 413). As Clark explains, “it is suggested that highly educated people may have more individualistic attitudes” (Clark 2006, 20), and as such they are “better able to separate themselves from their family, and take responsibility for their marital decisions” (Parsons, et al. 2007, 346).  According to a Hindu man who is married to a Christian woman, his parents had “never expected an obedient son to make such a bold and drastic decision” (UCA NEWS 2006, 7); this implies that the notions of individualism may surpass the importance of familial approval, further illustrating the trend between education and interreligious unions.

As Thomas sums up nicely, with the increasingly widespread notion of ‘marriage for love’, the choice of marriage mates has become strictly a personal affair- with diminishing considerations given to religious origin, and familial concerns (Thomas 1951, 491).

Finally, adult children of interreligious unions are more likely to be in interreligious unions themselves- signifying that legacy is an important issue worth considering. (Clark 2006, 21). These claims were also confirmed by Thomas, citing that “the children of mixed marriages tend to marry those outside their religious group more often than do the offspring of in-group marriages” (Thomas 1951, 491). This may be due to the fact that these children are replicating and reproducing what they know- namely life in a mixed faith household.

The Significance of Religion on Marital Quality

As previously stipulated, “religiously homogamous couples report higher marital quality” (Myers 2006, 292) than do religiously heterogamous couples; according to Parsons, Nalbone, Kilmer and Wetchler “an astounding of 95% of marriage and family therapists believe there is a positive relationship between shared religiosity and marital health” (Parsons, et al. 2007, 344). There are several reasons offered for this connection. First off, couples with parallel religious beliefs are “united by their common values which provide them with a unified approach to marital and family issues” (Myers 2006, 293); Myers also suggests that this “shared religious experiences increase family cohesion” (Myers 2006, 293), which would further improve marital and family quality. As Landis research shows (indicated by figure 3 in the appendix), children of interreligious unions stated higher levels of familial discontent than did children in religiously homogamous marriages. This indicates that family cohesion and stability is relatively low (Landis 1949, 405). This shared belief also allows spouses to “automatically understand and appreciate the others’ religious experiences” (Heller and Wood 2000, 248). Furthermore it suggests that these couples have less potential conflict areas with one another (Parsons, et al. 2007, 349) and that their shared beliefs “provide a language for communication, as well as a useful resource and frame of reference for negotiating differences” (Heller and Wood 2000, 242). It is also worth noting that shared beliefs “reduce the need for a spouse to search for similar views outside the marriage” (Myers 2006, 293), which encourages higher levels of marital satisfaction.

With religious heterogamous couples on the other hand, the process of negotiation (or renegotiation) “can cause tension, conflict and dissatisfaction in one’s marriage” (Parsons, et al. 2007, 344) and is “characterized by reduced efficiency” (Lehrer and Chiswick 1993, 386). When partners do not share similar beliefs, they are forced to individually assess their own values and morals to decide which ones are the most important to be incorporated into the new family; this is often trying and can lead to further conflict.

Another source of marital conflict for the religiously heterogamous is linked to community involvement. As previously mentioned several religious groups discourage interreligious unions, and involvement in such unions can lead to alienation from the group and ostracizing. As Copenhaver and the UCA article confirm, one or both of the spouses in an interreligious union feel alienated from their families and communities. Parsons, Nalbone, Kilmer and Wetchler argue that “one’s religious beliefs and commitment to religion have a direct effect on one’s relationship within the community” (Parsons, et al. 2007, 348), and because of these external pressures, conflict and discontent may be exacerbated within a marriage. Furthermore, in-law frictions are shown to be heightened in interreligious unions. As Landis’ research shows “a careful study of in-law frictions in marriage finds more intense friction in cases where the children have made a mixed religious marriage” (Landis 1949, 406); this is likely to further exacerbate marital discontent.

In addition, differing levels of religiosity between spouses can result in marital dissatisfaction and disappointment. Copenhaver, a pastor whose wife was not religiously inclined, mentioned his disappointment in “not being able to share a part of my life with my life partner” (Copenhaver 2009, 25) and found it disconcerting that he could not share his “profound commitments with someone he felt so close to” (Copenhaver 2009, 25). Due to differences in religiosity, spouses may have to “look outside the marriage for religious intimacy which inhibits marital companionship” (Lehrer and Chiswick 1993, 386) further deteriorating marital quality.

For the religiously heterogamous, things get even more complicated when children are involved. As Landis’ indicates, “it is the presence of children in the home which makes room for marital conflict” (Landis 1949, 403). This tension occasionally stems from “conflict regarding the raising of children” (Parsons, et al. 2007, 348) but more often than not it stems from conflicts regarding the religious training of the children. Often, both spouses “insist on bringing up their children in their own religious atmosphere, as they believe it is their obligation as a parent” (UCA NEWS 2006) which would increase marital tension.

Finally, Parsons, Nalbone, Kilmer and Wetchler suggest that there has been a lack of integration of spirituality and religion in couples/marriage therapy, and claim that this “has the potential to lead to couple dissatisfaction” (Parsons, et al. 2007, 344) among religiously heterogamous couples. Because marriage and pre-marriage counsellors are not adequately trained to deal with religiously mixed marriages, such unions are not equipped with the tools necessary for them to constructively channel their marital conflict, preventing their problems from being solved.

However, there are other considerations that have to be made when assessing the marital quality of religiously heterogamous couples, and we should not rush into the conclusion that differences in religion are the root cause of marital problems. Often, these other factors may be of greater significance than differing religious values, and it is worth assessing these.

It is important to remind ourselves of the decline in religious authority and inclination seen today; religion as an institution is simply not as important as it once was for many people. Many couples- especially those who enter interreligious unions- are more secular i.e. place less emphasis on religion in their lives; this makes it difficult and problematic to cite religious differences as the root cause of their problems. Furthermore, it is argued that shared spirituality, rather than shared religion, is more important for marital quality. According to Meyerle, “shared spirituality deepens love and helps couples grow together and achieve their dreams. Even if partners hold dissimilar religious views, they can still have a committed, strong spiritual life that adds meaning and purpose to their existence” (Meyerle 2002, 13). Because of this, it is important to consider spirituality as well as, or perhaps ever over, religion in order to assess marital quality. Also worth noting, “spouses often switch faith or lose their religion after entering a mixed marriage” (Kalmijn 1998, 407)- so although they may start off as religiously heterogamous, throughout the course of their marriage they may be more homogamous. Therefore, the validity of religious factors is less certain in these cases.

As figure 2 reminds us, younger couples are more likely to be involved in interreligious unions than their older counterparts. As Lehrer and Chiswick point out, “age at marriage has been identified as a major determinant of marital stability” (Lehrer and Chiswick 1993, 387); according to their research, younger couples are more likely to face marital conflict and dissolution than older couples. It is suggested that marriage at a young age is considered indicative of “a short duration of search, suggesting relatively poor information about the partner’s characteristics and a high probability of subsequent marital dissolution” (Lehrer and Chiswick 1993, 387). Therefore, religion may have little to do with the dissolution of these unions, but rather rash and haste when it came down to mate selection.

Educational attainment and the growth of individualism also offer explanations regarding the supposed rise in marital discontent. As previously noted, today’s generation Y is driven more by individual and goal achievement than yesterday’s generation X was- it is also likely that those involved in interreligious marriages are more individualistic, given that they do not rely on the acceptance of their families and communities. Economic status and career advancement are placed highly in today’s capitalist, profit driven society. Because of this, familial and marital concerns may be pushed aside resulting in greater marital conflict and possibly greater marital dissolution

This leads us on to our next analytical factor, which is generational change. As it has been pointed out, today’s generation is “much less traditional in terms of gender, work, family, and religious issues and roles” (Myers 2006, 293) Changes in gender roles brought about by shifts in educational attainment have significantly affected marital and familial life, and have made divorce a more plausible reality in today’s world. It has been noted that today’s married couples have “higher levels of marital conflict and problems in general [whether or not they are interreligious] due to disagreements over division of labour and general household decisions that are a result of the changing family-gender-work bargain” (Myers 2006, 295). In order to fully understand marital discontent, we need to look at the bigger socio-demographic picture and examine other prevailing trends. We cannot assume that religious differences alone account for these cases of marital discontent, and we should not ignore the overall rise in the level of marital conflict.

It is also important to consider family-specific factors which can affect marital quality such as ethnicity, the number of children, division of labour, family income etc. These are not specifically related to generational change, and are more specific to unique situations. That being said, the rise in the level of marital conflict is seen in many family forms, and we should incorporate these factors as well as factors outside of the realm of religion into our analysis.

Marital quality really does depend on a situation by situation case, and each relationship represents a different situation with a different story and different factors at play. As Parsons, Nalbone, Kilmer and Wetchler’s  research indicates, the potential success (or failure) of an interreligious union has much to do with the key players in it, and we must remember the dangers of over generalization;  in order to fully assess the marital quality of a relationship we must look at cases individually. From a psycho-analytical perspective, Parsons, Nalbone, Kilmer and Wetchler emphasize in their research the importance of the process of identity formulation. They claim that in order for marital satisfaction to be achieved in adulthood, it is necessary for adolescents to “develop their own set of “morals, values, code of ethics, political perspectives and religious viewpoints” (Parsons, et al. 2007, 345). Those who have an achieved identity have higher marital satisfaction than those of a foreclosed identity (Parsons, et al. 2007, 346). This implies that individuals who took the time to explore their religious options and who had come to understand and to commit to their own religious beliefs and values were more likely to be happy in interreligious marriages than individuals who through time had unquestioningly followed the religion of their parents. If they fail to achieve their own identity, it is likely that there is confusion about adult roles and expectations (Parsons, et al. 2007, 345) which exacerbate marital discontent; Copenhaver’s wife was unsure of her religious identity before and during the marriage, which may help us understand the sources of marital discontent in their relationship (Copenhaver 2009). In other words, Parson et al. claim that it is the individual personality traits and the unique religious journeys of these individuals that will determine their marital satisfaction (or lack of), and it is important to incorporate situational differences in our analysis of marital quality.

Also, as indicated prior, there is a higher likelihood that children born out of interreligious unions would be in interreligious unions themselves. It has also been indicated that there are higher rates of marital dissolution within interreligious unions. Using that logic, one can assume that “children of these divorced parents may view their own marital dissolution with greater acceptance and may have more skills or more confidence for managing a household alone” (Lehrer and Chiswick 1993, 388). Although this logic may seem farfetched, we are again reminded of the importance of situational analysis and the importance of individual familial legacy in the analysis of marital quality.

Analytical Limitations

Whilst reviewing existing literature, a number of limitations and inconsistencies became apparent, making it difficult to assess whether religious differences were in fact the contributing factor to marital discontent in religiously heterogamous couples, and also making it difficult to establish whether the link between marital quality and religious heterogamy actually exists. These limitations and inconsistencies cannot be ignored as they affect the accuracy of our analysis.

As mentioned in the opening, there have been a few studies researching marital quality and religious homogamy/heterogamy. However, the few that exist use very different research methodologies and surveys that made cross-literary analysis difficult. For example, survey data was mixed and the methodology inconsistent. Some authors relied on in-depth interviews from self reported couples, (Parsons, Nalbone, Kilmer and Wetchler), some used census data (Clark), some used personal experiences (Copenhaver, UCA), and others questioned the children born out of interfaith unions (Lehrer, Chiswick, Landis, Salisbury). Although it was interesting to see the broad range of information, the lack of systematization may hurt the accuracy of our analysis. Furthermore, a lot of the research conducted may be outdated, particularly those of Landis and Thomas which date back to 1949 and 1951 respectively.

Another research limitation is based on the fact that much of the existing literature is based on Catholic-Protestant marriages (Landis, Thomas, Parsons, Nalbone, Kilmer, Wetchler, Copenhaver); although these are considered interreligious marriages, and are the most prevalent of interreligious unions in North America (Clark 2006, 17), I feel it would’ve been more enlightening to expand our research to look at various religions and intermarriage rather than focusing on Christian intermarriages. As Lehrer and Chiswick point out “compatibility between partners of different faiths may vary with the specific religions involved” (Lehrer and Chiswick 1993, 386), and in order to get a more comprehensive picture, it would’ve been useful to expand the scope of research to include a plethora of faiths.

Moreover, there is limited knowledge on previous marital histories of the respondents (Parsons, et al. 2007, 358). It has been documented that “certain experiences before marriage can influence the stability of a union” (Lehrer and Chiswick 1993, 388) such as cohabitation or prior marriage with another partner. This may be reflective of a tendency for lower levels of commitment, in a phenomenon known as the selection effect, and suggests reduced stability for the current union as well. Such information would have been useful to our research questions.

Furthermore, our use of divorce as a measure of marital satisfaction can be misleading as it may “not necessarily give a true picture of marital happiness” (Landis 1949, 404). Differing attitudes towards divorce in different religious traditions may hide marital discontent e.g. the banning of divorce under Catholicism would hide marital discontent significantly.

It also important to note that the researchers sampled and investigated had differing measurements of marital quality, which again, made our analysis less consistent. A useful measure to use would be the dyadic adjustment scale (DAS) as used in the Parson’s study. This is a 32-item self report survey that “measures marital adjustment across a variety of relational questions” (Parsons, et al. 2007, 352). However, given that our research was secondary- this would have been difficult.

Potential for Future Research

In order to best address our research questions, future research is needed. As Myers notes, “research has not explicitly examined whether the link between religion and marital quality has changed over time or over generations” (Myers 2006, 292). A cross-historical and longitudinal study, to show levels of marital satisfaction of interreligious couples over a time continuum would be an efficient and useful way to address our research questions. It would also provide more room for analysis. Furthermore, in depth interviews with these would be useful to determine marital quality and happiness, as well as identify coping and adjustment mechanisms adopted in order to relieve marital tensions.

It would also be useful to conduct research on the effects of religious differences in interreligious unions, whilst keeping other factors constant, to fully assess the significance of religion on the marital quality of these unions. For example, comparing rates of marital discontent amongst college-educated couples and examining the reported differences between the religiously heterogamous and homogamous.


Despite the widespread notion that “religious heterogamy is generally associated with a higher likelihood of marital dissolution” (Lehrer and Chiswick 1993, 400), there has been little systematic research dedicated to the investigation the causation and validity of this claim as my analysis intended to do.

With regards to causation- contrary to popular belief- a reported low rate of marital quality in religiously heterogamous unions is not necessarily caused by religious differences. As my research shows, social and demographic factors play large roles in influencing marital quality, as evident by the rise in marital discontent seen in both religiously heterogamous and homogamous couples. Although religious differences can exacerbate conflict, “marriage type is not predictive of intimacy” (Heller and Wood 2000, 245), and we need to look at both the bigger picture and the more family specific factors before rushing to the conclusion that religious differences are the root cause. As Lehrer and Chiswick point out, there is “not one relationship between religion and marital stability” (Lehrer and Chiswick 1993, 401), but a web of several, complex relationships requiring further research and insight in order to fully grasp the implications.

Are religiously heterogamous couples really more likely to have lower levels of marital quality? Because of analytical limitations, this claim cannot be accurately validated. Inconsistencies in measuring rates for both interreligious unions and marital discontent make it difficult to prove the link between them. An overall rise in low levels of marital quality could disprove this link; however more research is needed to fully investigate this issue. Although we cannot disprove this claim, we cannot validate it either without more specific research.


Figure 1: Table to Show % of Canadian Couples Who Are Interreligious Unions, According to Religious Origin (Clark 2006, 18)

Figure 2: Chart to Show % of Canadian Couples who are in Interreligious Unions, According to Age (Clark 2006, 19)

Figure 3: Table to Show Children's Statements on the Degree to Whicj Religious Differences had Handicapped Their Parents' Marriage in Mixed and Non-Mixed Marriage of Religion, (Landis 1949, 405)

*Note: These Figures Recorded are those of Official PArish Registries

Figure 4: Table to Show the Link Between Residential Areas and the Percentage of Interreligious Marriages, (Thomas 1951, 490)

*Note: Only Shows Mixed-Catholic Marriages, and the figures recorded are those according to the parish registries

Figure 5: Couple Intimacy Scores by Marriage, (Heller and Wood 2000, 246)


[1] Homogamy refers to marriage between individuals who are, in some culturally important way, similar to each other

[2] Secularism refers to the state of being separated from religion

[3] Endogamy is the practice of marrying within a specific ethnic group, class, or social group, rejecting others on such bases as being unsuitable for marriage (Thomas 1951, 487)


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