Does divorce affect the religion of children, and if so, how much?

The Institute for American Values explores the issue in “Does the Shape of Families Shape Faith?” a report released Wednesday. To download the full report and find other resources, visit

In the report’s summary, the authors say, “We have learned that when children of divorce reach adulthood, compared to those who grew up in intact families, they feel less religious on the whole and are less likely to be involved in the regular practice of a faith.”

For numbers, the authors quote a study showing more people from married-parent families than children from divorced families consider themselves religious (two-thirds to one-half). The study shows similar numbers for attending religious services: More than a third of children from married families versus a quarter from divorced families.

The authors continue, “Yet this overall picture can mask important differences. Some individuals from divorced families eventually become much more religious in the wake of their parents’ divorce, while others become much less. And as young adults, chil­dren of divorce are surprisingly likely to feel that they are more religious now than their parents ever were.”

The study considers divorce’s effects from several views including the family and the congregation. It looks at “good” divorce and shows that even if parents work hard to protect the children, divorce still harms them.

The report also considers children in nontraditional families and children born from reproductive technology and adopted children.

While filled with scholarly work, the group ends the report with a piece by co-author and former Baton Rouge resident Amy Ziettlow.

Ziettlow, now of Decatur, Ill., shares her recommendations for youth ministers and churches dealing with children of divorce.

Her recommendations break down to four ideas:

1. Find ways to show that the child’s story matters.

2. Adult role models matter to youth.

3. Being genuine matters.

4. Holy space matters.

Ziettlow explains each idea and shares stories of young people she knows.

The report ends with the authors’ suggestions to groups of people wanting to keep children of divorce involved in church. These include pastors, parents and church members as well as the young and adult children of divorce themselves.


Send ideas and comments to Leila Pitchford-English, The Advocate, P.O. Box 588, Baton Rouge, LA 70821-0588 or by email to