By Melinda Rogers
University of Utah professor Nick Wolfinger this month has released new research about the faith and family life among non-white Americans in a new book, “Soul Mates: Religion, Sex, Love & Marriage Among African Americans and Latinos.”
By 2050, a majority of Americans will be minorities yet we know little about faith and family life among non-white Americans, according to Wolfinger, whose research in the book details interesting aspects of family life. W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, is co-author of the book.
“Soul Mates” offers a positive portrait of black and Latino families: Most African-Americans will marry at some point in their lives, a clear majority of African-Americans are coupled when they have children, and most black couples are happy and monogamous, according to Wolfinger and Wilcox. When it comes to “family values,” a clear majority of blacks value marriage more than single living. Most Latinos will marry at some point in their lives, a clear majority of them are married when they have children, most Latino couples are happy, and divorce rates are lower among Latinos than for the country as a whole. When it comes to “family values,” a clear majority of Latinos value marriage more than single living, the researchers found.
One big reason so many families of color are thriving? They tend to be more religious than the average American, the researchers found.
“Soul Mates” also examines other family trends, said Wolfinger and Wilcox. For example, “Soul Mates” is the first book to report that black and Latino couples (as well as white couples) who attend church together are significantly more likely to report they are happy in their relationships than couples who don’t attend/attend together, in part because they pray together and share religious friends.
The book also indicates that religious faith makes for better men. Black and Latino men who attend church are more likely to be employed, to steer clear of crime and substance abuse, and to avoid incarceration. This men’s effect, in turn, lends indirect support to higher quality family relationships among black and Latino families, Wolfinger and Wilcox found.
Wolfinger recently spoke to @TheU about the new book and the public conversation about families it is starting across communities.
Q: Tell us about your new book. What made you interested in researching this issue? How does it build on your prior research?
A: Brad Wilcox and I have worked together for over a decade, and have a strong working relationship. He sees the forest — the big picture — while I see the trees. He is a conservative, while I’m a liberal, so our work meets sensibly in the center and is free of the dogma of both ideological camps.
We’ve done several papers showing the salutary effects of religion on relationships. This led us to believe that there was a bigger story to tell: How does integration into a religious community — as measured by regular church attendance — affect all aspects of marriage and family? Writing a book allowed us to look at the big picture, and incorporate data from many different sources: six national surveys, 75 interviews with parishioners, 50 interviews with clergy, focus groups and a year of fieldwork spent attending different churches in New York.
Q: What are some of the unique aspects of this topic that you uncovered while writing this book?
A: In a nutshell, it’s interesting because family and religion are two of the most powerful forces in society. How do they intersect?
And we’re interested in minority families because they have long faced unique challenges. But amidst all these challenges, religion is a powerful force producing positive change.
Q: Why is this book relevant to our world and communities today? What do you hope people walk away thinking about after reading the book?
A: We make a very strong case that religion helps people in their family lives. People who go to church often have fewer premarital births, marry at a higher rate and have better relationships, whether or not they’re married. It doesn’t matter what church they attend, so long as they go regularly. And curiously, church attendance produces lower divorce rates only for whites (whereas all of our other findings apply to whites, African-Americans, and Latinos alike).
The American family is changing, so we want people to be aware of the role religion is playing in buttressing the family against the myriad challenges of modern life. We also want people thinking of ways that we could better support families, both through organized religion and outside of it.
Melinda Rogers is a communications specialist at University Marketing and Communications. If you have an interesting story idea, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.