Catholics Embrace Divorce as Fewer Get Married

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by Bradley Eli, M.Div., Ma.Th.  •  •  July 12, 2017   

Gallup poll shows 73% of Catholics believe divorce is morally acceptable

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WASHINGTON ( - Catholics are now as accepting of divorce as the average American.

According to a Gallup poll published Friday, "Seventy-three percent of U.S. Catholics from 2015 –2017 say divorce is morally acceptable, the same as the 2017 national average." The American research company founded in 1935, conducted their study in May as part of their "annual 'Values and Beliefs' poll."

While Catholic acceptance of divorce matches that of Americans overall, it dwarfs that of churchgoing Americans. The same study found that only 51 percent of Americans "who attend church or some place of worship at least once a week" call divorce "morally acceptable."

According to Gallup's report, the national average of 73 percent of Americans saying divorce is "morally acceptable" is at a historic high. It cited an old Gallup poll from 1954 that found only 53 percent of Americans back then said they "believe" in divorce.

Those currently married are now more open to divorce than ever. The study related that the "divorced or separated are no more likely than the 'never marrieds' to say divorce is morally acceptable." For the first time, however, the poll found that "married adults were about as likely as unmarried adults to say divorce is morally acceptable" with 70 percent of this group saying the practice of divorce is moral.

The largest increase in acceptance of divorce was among elderly Americans above the age of 55. In 2001, only 57 percent of Americans in this age bracket approved of divorce. That number has since jumped to 71 percent and was actually higher than those among the 35–54 year-olds.

These findings come at a time when divorce rates have dipped substantially from their all-time highs in the 1980s and 1990s. The report charted the decline in the rate of divorce from 70 divorces per 1,000 people in 2001 to only 52 divorces per 1,000 people in 2015.

The "divorce revolution," says the report, may be coming to an end for the same reason that divorces are slowing down — fewer people embracing the institution of marriage altogether:

As divorce rates have fallen, so too have marriage rates as young adults delay marriage. And across all age groups, the practice of cohabitation has risen considerably, according to Pew Research. Gallup has also found that Americans are less likely to believe it is important for couples who want to live together or have a child together to get married.

The report also linked the decline in the practice of marriage to the "no-fault" divorce laws that started with California in 1969 and spread to 49 other states by 1985. The report brought up a little-known fact that in 1968 a Gallup poll had found that "60 percent of Americans wanted the government to make divorce in the U.S. 'more difficult.'"


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