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Studies Show Intermarriages Fail More

Your grandmother may be right after all

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An article in last Sunday’s Washington Post laid out some data on interfaith marriages, and it was not pretty. Such unions “fail at higher rates than same-faith marriages. But couples don’t want to hear that, and no one really wants to tell them.” The article continues:

In some ways, more interfaith marriage is good for civic life. Such unions bring extended families from diverse backgrounds into close contact. There is nothing like marriage between different groups to make society more integrated and more tolerant. …

But the effects on the marriages themselves can be tragic—it is an open secret among academics that tsk-tsking grandmothers may be right. According to calculations based on the American Religious Identification Survey of 2001, people who had been in mixed-religion marriages were three times more likely to be divorced or separated than those who were in same-religion marriages.

(Tsk-tsking grandmothers? I should be so lucky.)

And trends suggest that such marriages will only rise, as younger generations seem less and less concerned about entering into them; indeed, many millennials actively seek them out, “as if,” the author writes, “our society’s institutional rules about nondiscrimination in hiring an employee or admitting someone to college have morphed into rules for screening romantic partners.” While only 15 percent of U.S. households were mixed-faith in 1988, 25 percent were in 2006, a number that is expected only to increase. Less than one-fourth of 18-to-23-year-olds polled felt marrying within their faith was important.

And, except for U.S. Buddhists, who had an outlier-esque 39 percent intermarriage rate, American Jews had the highest intermarriage rate in 2001: 27 percent.

Here is where I gently request that you keep it civil in the comments.

Intermarriage Rates Are Rising Fast, But They’re Failing Fast Too

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Obviously, we think about these issues all the time at I’m very curious about something, though. How do you figure that these “calculations based on the American Religious Identification Survey of 2001″ are “studies”? Also, the Pew Forum on Religion survey in 2007 indicates that Jews don’t have the highest rate of interfaith marriage–see here:

When I read this piece, I was very disappointed to find very little new or persuasive evidence about divorce in interfaith families. As far as I know, when journalists call to ask me about Jew and interfaith marriage, I’m going to still have to respond that we don’t know whether the rate of divorce in interfaith families is higher, in spite of older studies that suggested it was–because, as you point out, a lot of other things about intermarriage have changed. Of course, as the recent Reyes case would indicate, it seems to be a lot better for the Jewish community for interfaith marriages not to end in divorce.

Uno Immoto says:

Perhaps I can shed a little light on this subject to the Younger Generation. As one adopted and raised in a Xian Family, married 30 years in a Xian marriage – now going thru The Process of Converting to Conservative Judaism – I Highly do NOT recommend Interfaith Marriage.

My husband is not Religious so he doesn’t care but it is The In-Laws that are The Problem. I am being shunned, called, emailed – BLASTED “Straight to Hell!, so to speak, on a regular basis.

To complicate matters further, our first Grandbaby is now here and I’m having to learn to “Deal” with walking the tightrope of Interfaith Grandparenting.

My real-life scenario is NOT a Rosy Picture.
Yet, I have finally found THE Spiritual Pathway I have been Seeking my entire 47 years of Life. The Pathway I was created to Journey…for me I am just Officially becoming -who I have Always Been.

I am making Teshuvah to HaShem, the G-d of My Ancestors, THE G-d I have Prayed to & Served all my Life: I will NOT give up My Conservative Judaism Pathway for Anyone or Anything – but at a High COST – I have Lost my Extended Family.

Who would want to live in a world without Montaigne, Cervantes, Niels Bohr, Hans Bethe, Paul Newman, Alexander Grothendieck, V.I. Arnold, oh, we could go on indefinitely, but intermarriage enriches our culture, and humanity generally.

Thank God for it.

Patricia says:

Several comments:
1. @fw: It is not necessary to be intermarried to appreciate aspects of non-Jewish/secular culture.
2. Statistics are only part of the story. Intermarriage is not going away. To be successful, the Jewish community needs to figure out how to support all Jewish families (intermarried and inmarried). What role do congregations play in helping intermarried families navigate problems of belief and practice? (For example, do families who affiliate with a congregation have the same or different divorce rates?) What other support is there? Do we know what makes a marriage last? Do we know how families — inmarried or intermarried — make Jewish choices?
3. I am disturbed by the WP assumption that someone who has converted to Judaism is part of an intermarriage. That does, however, raise the question of the meaning of conversion. I know many Jews who have converted and who would be disturbed to their sincerity questioned. On the other hand, clearly the conversion described in the opening paragraphs was less than authentic, which is its own kind of problem.

Patricia, I’m not sure what you’re saying; all the individuals I listed are part-Jewish, half in most or all cases. Cervantes is a little cloudier, but Spanish scholars seem to have formed a consensus that he had a Converso background.

I suppose I could throw in Frida Kahlo for good measure, or Yasmin Bleeth, but my point is that interfaith marriage is a good thing, though not only because it’s produced so many cultural icons, like Harrison Ford.

Peter W. says:

Sure there have been great people produced by intermarriages. What doesn’t come to mind are all the great people who would have resulted if the Jewish parents had not intermarried and had married other Jews.

As a product of an interfaith marriage … I would urge the Jewish community to think much more about accepting patriarchal descent… so the generation that follows is accepted into the faith… especially since we are not turning back from interfaith marriages in a pluralistic society in America.

I couldn’t ask for more supportive in-laws and grandparents to my Jewish children than my non-Jewish husband’s family. Which proves nothing other than personal anecdotes prove nothing. And really ,neither do “studies.” No one getting married cares about statistics and they will never draw conclusions about their own relationship from a pile of statistics.

Posting this belatedly, but for the record, it is distressing that the Washington Post did not identify the author of that piece (which was not journalism, but ran instead in the opinion section) as being affiliated with a “pro-marriage” (and anti-gay-marriage) think tank. The essay cites NO new data, and cherrypicks from the available (very slim, very dated) research, and harps on the egregiously bad Reyes marriage as if it were some kind of norm. For a full analysis of the misuse of statistics in her essay, see the comment sections at and on my blog and our responses to the author, Naomi Schaefer Riley. As the daughter of a wondrously happy, 50-plus year interfaith marriage, still going strong, I would put up my anecdotes against her anecdotes, any day. When a family sits shiva for an intermarried child, does it endanger that child’s marriage? Sure. Times have changed. But there is virtually no independent, robust data on this question of current interfaith divorce rates.


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Studies Show Intermarriages Fail More

Your grandmother may be right after all

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