Marriage, Religion, Religion and the Public Square How the Rise in Unreligious Americans affects Sex and Marriage: Comparative Evidence from New Survey Data

Aug 20, 2019 by

by Mark Regnerus, Public Discourse:

Permissive sexual attitudes and practices have not stimulated the religious revival many Christians believe the extremes of Sexual Revolution will inspire. There is no evidence of it in the data. On the contrary: Christians seem to grow more complicit—or at least more quiet about their misgivings—by the year.

Growth in the number of Americans who profess no religious affiliation cannot but affect the institution of the family, built as it is on the marital union of husband and wife. The content we publish at Public Discourse centers around the five pillars of a thriving society, one of which is a healthy understanding of sexuality and family. As our description of this pillar states, “No other institution can top the family’s ability to transmit what is pivotal—character formation, values, virtues, and enduring love—to each new generation.” In this essay, I highlight how the absence of religion matters for sexuality and family, and how attitudes and practices in these respects are changing—quickly.

This is not a review piece. It’s not philosophical. I won’t speculate much on how we got here, nor will I talk about complex statistics or causal directions. I just want to introduce recent survey data—from November 2018—that provide a snapshot of what unreligious Americans think and do, with a few observations on how things have changed since 2015.

The Survey

Let me offer a word about the survey. I call it the American Political and Social Behavior survey, which interviewed 5,285 Americans in November 2018, just days after the midterm election. The data collection was conducted by Ipsos, formerly Knowledge Networks (or KN), a research firm with a very strong record of generating high-quality data for academic projects. They maintain the KnowledgePanel®, a well-regarded survey pool which does not accept self-selected volunteers. As a result, it is a random, nationally representative sample of the American population, and it compares favorably with other large population-based data collection efforts. I asked a series of identical questions in early 2015 in an even larger sample from the same firm—hence the ability to discern trends.

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