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The September 2007 issue of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion includes a study by Ph.D. student Richard J. Petts and assistant professor Chris Knoester of The Ohio State University on the question of religious heterogamy between parents, or the effects of parents being "unequally yoked" on their children. How do children fare when one parent is a believer of some kind and the other is not?

The authors noted studies confirming positive effects of religious participation on the lives of children in the form of higher self-esteem, overall satisfaction, higher grades, and reduced usage of drugs and alcohol. Given the likelihood that mixed-faith marriages would tend to reduce religious participation and cause marital conflict, the authors hypothesized that children would be negatively impacted by these marriages.

The study produced surprising results. Children of religiously unmatched parents did not manifest lower grades, lower self-esteem, or lower satisfaction. But they were far more likely to use marijuana and engage in underage drinking.

I interviewed Richard Petts about his findings.

Are religiously heterogamous unions on the rise? If so, why do you think that is?

All signs point to a sizeable increase in religiously heterogamous marriages, although detailed numbers are hard to come by.

There are a number of reasons for this increase. First, increased individualism among Americans starting in the 1960s led to a greater focus on spirituality and personalized religious practices. This led many people to turn away from traditional churches, and also helped to increase acceptance of religious diversity.

Moreover, religious affiliation as an identifying characteristic seems to have declined in importance. For example, ...

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Do Children of the 'Unequally Yoked' Do Worse?
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October 2007

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