Social taxonomies

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Economist Evelyn L. Lehrer states in The New York Times:

During the first five years of marriage, the divorce rate for a couple of the same religion hovers around 24 percent, no matter what that religion is. But it jumps to 38 percent for a marriage between a mainline Protestant and a Catholic and 42 percent for one between a Jew and a Christian

You can read a more detailed paper at Lehrer’s website. Nothing too weird, and we shouldn’t read much into it as there are all sorts of variables that influence the type of person who marries outside their own religion/ethnic group…but, I am struck that most of the marital dissonance between Protestants and Jews also seems to crop up between Catholics and Jew. Genetically it seems clear that Roman Catholicism and Protestantism form a clade with multiple shared derived characters when compared to the outgroup of Judaism, but sociologically in the Catholic-Protestant-Jew trichotomy it is the Protestants that have been the odd ones out in relation to the two white “ethnic”religious groupings. In fact the Jewish and Catholic elites were both united against the WASP establishment until 1950. The diminution of the more crass forms of nativism and a more abstract and intellectual critique of Roman Catholicism non-religious Jews could agree with, and, the subsequent rise of “cultural issues” shattered the Catholic-Jewish alliance which crested during the second heyday of the Klu Klux Klan.

But the bigger point might be that the nature of difference is less important than the difference in the first place. Group identity and support which dissolves with an outmarriage might be more important than the multiple stresses introduced by pairwise differences between individuals, as it seems that least ideologically Catholics and Protestants should share more because of their common Christianity.


  1. Inter-religious marriages raise problems over the upbringing of children. Take the case of a Jewish-Catholic couple: do they have the children baptised? If they have a boy do they have it circumcised? By a doctor or a mohel? Should the boy learn Hebrew? And so on and on. 
    It would be interesting to see if the same results (i.e. higher divorce rates for inter-faith marriages) apply to childless couples.

  2. If they have a boy do they have it circumcised?  
    in the USA the vast majority of boys are circumcised, so that shouldn’t be an issue :)

  3. I was struck by this quote, from the link: 
    Today, online personal ads have mushroomed into a $500 million annual business, with Barry Diller and Yahoo among the biggest players. No other industry makes as much money online from monthly fees, not even pornography, according to Jupiter Research.

  4. Thus far most of the people I’ve dated have been Atheists or fairly secular, even if they identified as religious. 
    If I were to marry a Christian, I would prefer low church over high – and would want any scripture reading placed in context. 
    If I were to marry a religious Jewish woman, I wouldn’t have any problem raising kids to learn Hebrew, but again I would want all scripture reading placed in context – however I certainly would object to circumcision, as I find it to be a barbaric relic of the many ancient ritual mutilations stemming out of the East African region.

  5. During the first five years of marriage, the divorce rate for a couple of the same religion hovers around 24 percent, no matter what that religion is. 
    Does this dip down even further, e.g. are Methodist/Baptist marriages less stable than Baptist/Baptist, etc?

  6. Intergroup marriages could also break up more easily if they’re based more on producing hybrid vigor — the guy (or girl) is in town from a strange land for only a short time, and the mutual exoticness pulls the parents together before he (or she) returns to their homeland. This is more tempting when the mom knows she can easily raise the kid on her own. Hopefully most of those Jewish – Italian marriages last long enough to make some hot hot kids (w/ brains too). 
    I’m sure the other guys are wondering what the guy featured in the article had that made him so lucky in the electro-date arena: 
    When Ms. Brereton got her [list] in the mail, the 10 names on it included Mr. Smith, a tall future lawyer from New Jersey. 
    Mystery solved.

  7. the vast majority of boys are circumcised 
    77% of newborn boys these days…

  8. “in the USA the vast majority of boys are circumcised, so that shouldn’t be an issue :) “ 
    - I vaguely recall that even in the US Catholics (or maybe some Catholic ethnic groups, e.g. Italians or Poles) are less likely to be circumcised than Protestants. If this is true, I’m not sure why – maybe a residual antisemitism?

  9. I wonder what the statistics are for partners of similar religion but drastically different cultural backgrounds- Roman Catholics & Irish Catholics, for example, share a pronatalist ideology, but could have distinct, incompatible templates for handling disagreements.

  10. David B, 
    What has revulsion to circumcision have to do with anti-semitism?? 
    Circumcision is practiced worldwide by various groups from East Africa, Middle East to South East Asia and Oceania. 
    Other groups like the Celts, when they practiced Brehon Law, would penalize a male sex offender by removing his right testicle – another practice I find barbaric.

  11. Samara, 
    Irish Catholics are Roman Catholics?? 
    Unless you meant Italian Catholics, perchance?

  12. Among immigrant groups, it’s been pretty common for the Italian, Irish, and German Catholics (for example) to all have separate churches as well as separate neighborhoods. The thing is, the religion is the same in terms of theology and high-level organization, but the surrounding culture, including a lot of cultural elements embedded into the religion, are really different.  
    You can see this with Spanish/English Mass today. The music, the feel and formality of the Mass, how much people dress up (Spanish speakers are poorer on average, but dress much better for Mass than English speakers, at least by my unscientific observations. Also, women at the Spanish speaking mass often dress in ways I’d consider pretty overtly sexy for church.), and even the days that are celebrated (the Virgin of Guadaloupe is hardly mentioned in English-language Mass) are different.

  13. re: catholics, i spent last fall studying american catholicism. separate ethnic parishes was to some extent a reality, but after 1850 the american church was to a great extent an irish church at the commanding heights. the poles and italians weren’t organized enough to oppose the hiberno-hegemony, while the germans failed in their attempt to set up a separate power structure. 
    re: circumcision rates, i think the lower catholic % was due to lack of assimilation into mainstream mores (the high tide of circumcision was around 1960). today the influx of latino catholics means that circumcision rates are reduced for catholics, but i would bet that white catholics and protestants don’t differ much. there are regional variations too, in the pacific northwest the rate of circumcision has decreased greatly. i had a friend who worked daycare in college at our university center, and most of the kids she worked with were children of professors and most of the boys were not circumcised.

  14. Razib, 
    That mainly had to do with the source of priests, right? I’m going mostly from anecdote (what number do I have to multiply that by to get data, again?), but my impression is that the neighborhoods and communities  
    (and parishes) were largely separate, but that we had a huge influx of Irish priests, and that this colored all kinds of things within the Church.  
    There are related things going on now. The Church absolutely relies on a supply of priests, and to a lesser extent sisters (aka nuns, approximately). But the decision to go into the priesthood is an economic decision, and we live in a world where there are a lot of other opportunities. This has led to a big shortage of priests, and I think that has contributed to all kinds of ugly things, including the sex scandals of the last few years. When you have a smaller pool of applicants, you can’t be as choosy, and it shows sometimes.  
    An even bigger impact happens with women becoming sisters. Those women used to have a huge hand in running churches and schools, and the drop in their numbers has corresponded to a shift where (among other things) most teachers at Catholic schools are just hired like any other school. Again, women who aren’t going to marry have some other choices in their lives, and it shows in numbers.

  15. but that we had a huge influx of Irish priests, and that this colored all kinds of things within the Church 
    in the early half of the 19th century the american church was pretty assimilated. it wasn’t ethnic, it was rooted in the old catholic families who were part of the settler colonies, especially in maryland. but the influx of irish in the 1840s changed that, and concomitant with the influx of irish in the USA there was a revolution in the irish church in the 19th century which was perceived to be rather austere and neo-jansenist. these irish princes of the church refashioned the american church in their image. when the germans showed up in the 1850s they attempted to set up a separate structure with their own language, but the irish church argued against and, sometimes in nativistic language (they spoke english after all). the various slavic groups were never numerous enough, like the germans, to challenge the irish, while the italians came from an anti-clerical culture in italy at the time.

  16. If this is true, I’m not sure why – maybe a residual antisemitism? 
    Maybe because circumcision has no medical value in our modern world.

  17. Roman Catholics & Irish Catholics 
    Irish Catholics are Roman Catholics. Do you mean Italian-Catholics?