Nineteen Sixty-four is a research blog for the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University edited by Mark M. Gray. CARA is a non-profit research center that conducts social scientific studies about the Catholic Church. Founded in 1964, CARA has three major dimensions to its mission: to increase the Catholic Church's self understanding; to serve the applied research needs of Church decision-makers; and to advance scholarly research on religion, particularly Catholicism. Follow CARA on Twitter at: caracatholic.


The Marriage Question: In the Church or not?

The post below is authored by and based on the research of Adriana Garcia. She interned at CARA this summer—on loan from the University of Notre Dame. She is heading back there to begin her senior year (followed by graduate school and a Ph.D. ...). Adriana is specifically interested in something that has been featured in recent CARA articles in OSV and The Official Catholic Directory, 2011—the decision to marry in the Church. Her analysis below uses logistic regression. This method of analysis allows one to predict which of two categories a person is likely to be in (the dichotomous dependent variable) given a variety of factors and information about a person (independent variables). In this case we are looking at the decision to marry in the Church or not. She uses CARA’s recent survey on the sacrament of marriage for the analysis. In the logistic regression tables below she reports coefficients that measure the change in odds associated with decisions to marry in the Church based on each independent variable listed in the table. Where this coefficient is 1.0 or greater it means the variable is associated with the respondent being more likely to marry in the Church. When it is less than 1.0 it means that the variable is associated with the respondent being less likely to marry in the Church. 

Church weddings. Not so much seashells, confetti or bridezillas, but more of a traditional event; a priest is present, scripture is read, and the ceremony is held in the ‘house of God.’ In other words, one that retains the sacramental side of things.   
Recently, the topic of marriage has taken over news headlines. From print to televised media, journalists and activists have discussed and advocated their own views and definitions of marriage. In all this conversation though, what’s going on with Catholics? Of course, the Catholic Church continues to reiterate Church teaching and uphold the sanctity of such a sacrament, but what factors lead Catholics to take this sacred route? What leads Catholics to choose the sanctified marital union over a quick trip to Vegas or the Poconos? 

In a 2007 poll conducted by CARA for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), 1,008 U.S. adults self-identifying as Catholic were asked an array of questions on the issue of marriage (margin of sampling error of ±3.1 percentage points). The survey not only tested general knowledge on Catholic teaching but also asked respondents about their own views on marriage and divorce.

In this post, an analysis is presented that aimed to gain a greater grasp on what influences Catholics to marry within the Church. To accomplish this, we divide the sample by marital status. We first look at Catholics who have never married but who indicate it is at least a little likely that they will do so in the future. The analysis isolates what makes people in this group more or less likely to say that it would be important (“somewhat” or “very”) to them to be married in the Church in the future. Second, we focus on Catholics who have married and on whether they chose to be married in the Church (excluding marriages following divorce without an annulment). So for one group we are looking at future intentions and the other whether they actually chose to marry in the Church (the obvious limitations of causality among respondents in the latter group are noted below). With the aid of logistic regression, important factors are isolated as being more or less relevant to the decision to marry in the Church.

First, it is important to note that the two groups include people at two stages of life. The never married Catholics are disproportionately young adults and those who have been married tend to be older. While the never-married generally carry an optimistic and idealistic outlook on their future marriage choices, those who have married appear to have been more pragmatic in their choice to marry in the Church.  

The results for never-married Catholics are presented in the table below (statistically significant results are noted where *p<.05, **p<.01, ***p<.001). A narrative description of these findings follows. 

Controlling for all factors in the never-married models, those of the Millennial Generation (born after 1981), who attend Mass at least once a month, with married parents, and with more traditional views of marriage are among the most likely to say it is important to them to be married in the Church.  Attendance at college or attainment of a degree are factors that make it less likely a never-married Catholic will say it is important for them to marry in the Church. There are no statistically significant effects of Catholic schooling at any level for this group (yet this does not preclude that these may emerge as influences later in life).

Never-married Catholics who 1) say they are familiar with Church teachings on marriage, 2) that their Catholic faith informs their views of marriage, 3) who also agree marriage is a calling from God, and 4) that it is important for spouses to share the same faith are among the most likely to say it is important to them to marry in the Church. 


As shown in the table above, among Catholics who have married at some point in their life, Hispanics are significantly less likely than non-Hispanic white Catholics to indicate that they married in Church. Sociologist R.S. Oropesa, in his article “Normative Beliefs about Marriage and Cohabitation” in the Journal of Marriage and Family writes, “consensual unions (not marriage)…reflects…the inability to pay for religious marriage ceremonies.” In other words, Church marriages in Latin America are thought of as a luxury item, an event that only occurs if one can pay for it. Some Hispanics have married before immigrating to the United States and among native-born Hispanics in the United States these cultural norms of marriage are in some cases still intact, and may be resulting in more civil unions and cohabitation.     

In regards to education, Catholics who have married in the Church are less likely to have attended Catholic primary schools than Catholics who chose to marry outside the Church.  In contrast, Catholics who have married in the Church are five times more likely to have attended Catholic universities and colleges than their counterparts who decided to marry outside the Church. In fact, attendance at a Catholic college or university is the single most powerful correlate of having married in the Catholic Church (this positive association for Catholic college attendance and something faith-related is one among many found in CARA surveys).

Whereas a college education—at a Catholic or non-Catholic institution—is associated with lower levels of importance assigned to marrying in the Church among never-married Catholics, having a college degree is positively associated with marrying in the Church among those who have already faced this decision.

Mass attendance is important as well with those attending more frequently now, having also been more likely in the past to marry in the Church. This correlation includes those who attend at least once a month. As in the never-married results, a slightly weaker coefficient among weekly attenders specifically is likely related to the addition of attitudinal variables in the third model. Among married Catholics, those who say their Catholic faith informs their view of marriage are much more likely than those not responding as such to have married in the Church.
The results for Catholics who have already married carry less weight than those who have never married. Some of the variables in the married models include observations of attitudes and behavior that can be quite distant from the decision to marry and cannot possibly be causally related to this decision due to time order.  Instead, many results for this group may instead be measuring the effects of Catholic marriage. Two important exceptions to this issue are the results related to Hispanic self-identity and the associations related to attendance at Catholic educational institutions (as attendance likely precedes marriage decisions).

The results for the never-married Catholics are methodologically straightforward and more important for the future of the Church. With the numbers of marriages in the Church declining in recent years it is a hopeful sign that the youngest adult Catholics—the Millennials—are more likely than Post-Vatican II Catholics (born 1961 to 1981) or even older Catholics who never married (but who still say their is some likelihood that they will) to feel marriage in the Church is important to them. It is also heartening that never-married Catholics who are familiar with Church teachings and who say these inform their view of marriage feel it is important for them to marry in the Church. It may follow that making young Catholics more fully aware of these teachings and more committed to them could be a key factor in reversing the recent declines in marriage in the Church.

Above photos courtesy of Price|Photography, 50 Prime, Nigel Howe, zoonabar at Flickr Creative Commons.

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