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Divorce Rate of Jehovah's Witnesses

Watchtower claims dramatic improvement in the quality of marriage of its followers, and makes indication 50% of worldly people divorce, whilst only 5% of Jehovah's Witnesses do. This presentation of statistics is grossly deceptive and research from a range of countries show Jehovah's Witnesses emulate general population divorce rates.

Watchtower postulates that following their teachings improves Jehovah's Witness marriages.

"Indeed, those really willing to learn from Jehovah's Witnesses will discover something. What is that? How Bible truths can dramatically improve the quality of their lives. "Our marriage has never been better than it is now," they say. "We have so much to thank Jehovah for."" Watchtower 1990 May 15 p.21

This supposedly results in a significantly lower divorce rate for Jehovah's Witnesses than for worldly people.

"By applying unselfish love in their marriages, Jehovah's Witnesses achieve stable relationships. In some countries one marriage out of every two or three ends in divorce. But the above-mentioned survey indicated that presently only 4.9 percent of the Witnesses are divorced or separated from their mates." Awake 1997 Sep 8 p.11

This article presents research from various countries that show the divorce rate of Jehovah's Witnesses is similar to the population average, and discusses why the comment in the above box is statistically misleading.

Data extracted from the 2016 Australian Census Figures show that the percentage of divorced Australians is similar to Jehovah's Witnesses. The combined 2016 figure for divorced and separated Australians totals 9.55%, compared with 9.22% for Jehovah's Witnesses.

"U.S. Religious Landscape Survey 2008" by The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life surveyed 35,000 people and presents findings on divorce/separation rates. (religions.pewforum.org/reports as at 20 Apr 2008) The following graph from the report shows the Witness rate of 14% was slightly above the U.S. average of 12%.

Pew Report - Divorce rate of Jehovah's Witnesses

In 1990, the National Survey of Religious Identification (NSRI) was carried out at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. This was followed up by a study replicating the same methodology called the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) 2001. This was a random digit-dialed telephone survey of 50,281 American residential households in the continental U.S.A (48 states). In regards to divorce the statistics were as follows:

Courtesy gc.cuny.edu/faculty/research_studies/aris.pdf as at 13/10/2005

The total percentage of US adults divorced or separated was 9% in both 1990 and 2001. The rate for Jehovah's Witnesses was above average in 1990 at 11% and below average in 2001 at 6%. The variance from 11% to 6% over such a short time frame is possibly due to a small Witness sample size, and for the purposes of this article it can be noted that the rate for divorce amongst Jehovah's Witnesses has fluctuated around the population average.

A 1990 poll by Barna, a Christian research group, of 3,854 adults from the 48 contiguous states of America found that Atheists had a lower divorce rate than Christians. One explanation is that Atheists do not marry as a way to legitimise sex.

Religion % that have been divorced
Jews 30%
Born-again Christians 27%
Other Christians 24%
Atheists, Agnostics 21%

Follow up studies in 2008 by the Barna group are summarised at barna.org (as of Sep 28th 2009). This provides percentages of "Divorce Among Adults Who Have Been Married". The overall United States average is 33% but only 30% for atheists. The group with the lowest rate of divorce by far were Asians, with a rate of 20%.

A study that analyzed data on almost 8,000 married people from the U.S. General Social Surveys of 1991 to 2004 found that Jehovah's Witnesses are as likely to commit adultery as atheists. Shannon Proudfoot reports in "Faith and Marital Fidelity go Hand in Hand: Study":

"Non-traditional conservative groups such as Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses display no less likelihood of cheating than people with no religious affiliation. "That was a little bit surprising, considering you think of these conservative religious groups as having stricter teachings about sexuality," Burdette says."" (halifax.metronews.ca 6/12/07)

Deceptive use of Statistics

When the 1997 Awake! compared 4.9% of German Witnesses as divorced with "one out of every two" worldly marriages, it displayed a terrible misuse of statistics, deceptively and inappropriately comparing two unrelated figures.

"That hate can be replaced with love is illustrated by a survey taken in 1994 of 145,958 of Jehovah's Witnesses in Germany. In some countries one marriage out of every two or three ends in divorce. But the above-mentioned survey indicated that presently only 4.9 percent of the Witnesses are divorced or separated from their mates." Awake 1997 Sep 8 p.11

The above article is a classic example of fallacious use of statistics. The Watchtower compares two unrelated figures - 4.9% of Witnesses are divorced; with 50% of worldly marriages ending in divorce - to make it appear that Witness marriages are significantly more successful than "worldly" marriages. The reality is that only about 5% of the general population is divorced, a figure almost identical to that amongst Witnesses.

The difference between the two percentages is specifically explained by the Australian Bureau of statistics at www.abs.gov.au.

"The 51,400 divorces granted in 1998 occurred from the accumulated stock of all marriages contracted over the years and not from the 110,600 marriages registered in the year. For example, in 1998 there were 8.3 million married persons or about 4.1 million married couples. The 51,400 divorces represent about 12.4 divorces out of every 1,000 married couples." (abs.gov.au 13 Oct 2005)

Divorces per year in Australia may equal 46% of the number of marriages in that year, but it is not 46% of all marriages. In 1998, there were 18 million people in Australia, of which 8.3 million were married. Therefore, the number of divorces in a year represents only 1.24% of those married and 0.57% of the total population. The Witness figure of 4.9% from Germany needs to be compared with the correct figures. Figures from www.abs.gov.au collected in 1998 showed that amongst the Australian population of around 18,000,000 people, 1,000,000 had been divorced. That means that only 5.5% of all Australians have been divorced, quite similar to the 4.9% of German Jehovah's Witnesses.

A Jehovah's Witness congregation of 100 people will show a similar rate to the Australian population if there is 1 divorce every 2 years. Comparing recent marriages and divorces in many congregations approaches this frequency. From my own experience, the divorce rate amongst young Witnesses has been high. My congregation's in both Hobart and Sydney had on average one divorce every year over the last 10 years. Out of 44 of the peers I grew up with in Tasmania, 45% of those that got married were divorced within 10 years. In Parramatta congregation, by the time I was 35, 30% of those married in my age group were already divorced - several had divorced within 2 years of marriage.

Culture over Religion

Culture is more relevant to divorce than religion. The American Census Bureau (www.census.gov) reports that in the U.S. "More than eight out of 10 Asian-American children in the United States live with both parents, a rate of two-parent families significantly higher than for any other racial or ethnic group, according to a new Census Bureau study. "This is just a tradition. Divorce is something quite new to the Asian countries, really only in the last 50 years," said Juju Lien, executive director of the Asian-American Institute in Chicago."("Asian families stay together" http://www.divorcereform.org/mel/rasian.html April 20 2008) "Lower rates of births to unmarried women and divorce may contribute to lower rates of Asian children living in blended families. (Living arrangements of Children: 2004 census.gov/prod/2008pubs/p70-114.pdf April 20 2008)

Percentage of New Marriages which End in Divorce, in Selected Countries (2002) (divorcemag.com 20 Apr 2008) shows divorce varies significantly between countries. Whereas in America the number of divorces to marriages each year is 45.8%, in India it is only 1.1%.

The 2016 Australian Census showed that Christians have a higher divorce rate than Muslims and Hindus in Australia. A higher rate of divorce exists amongst Jehovah's Witnesses than these religious tenets, as well as being higher than comparable groups such as Seventh Day Adventists and Mormons.

We can conclude from the above studies that there is no significant difference between fidelity or divorce rates of Jehovah's Witnesses and the general population. Culture is more important than religion in keeping families together. For this reason it is most likely that Jehovah's Witness in Western countries have significantly higher divorce rates than non Christian people living in Asian countries. Watchtower articles that state otherwise, such as the 1997 Awake!, lack integrity.

Written 2005, latest update July 2017.

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