An April article in the Journal of Politics got a lot of attention in May. In a massive survey of 5,000 married couples, researchers (from Rice University, the University of Iowa, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Virginia Commonwealth University) tried to find the key to compatibility.
Headlines summed up what they think they found: “People Marry for Politics, not looks,” says one. “Does Cupid Play Politics?” asks another (subhead: “That ‘something special’ might be ideology”).
But reports barely mention the study’s real findings: Religion trumps even politics.
The study featured a decimal-loving “scale of 0 to 1, where 1 means perfectly matched” that scored compatibility traits. The scores:
Extroversion … 0 to .2 range
Impulsivity … 0 to .2
Physical traits … .1 to .2
Politics … .6
But few reports mentioned one additional score:
Church attendance … more than .7
I can think of a better headline for reports on the study: “Politics and Looks Together Don’t Equal Religion’s Importance to Couples.”
How did they miss the story?
First, consider just how spectacularly they missed it.
Studies consistently find a high correlation between church attendance and political views. These articles essentially said: “People are radically partisan. They pick spouses who share their political views … oh, and by the way, church attendance scores even higher.” That’s as silly as saying: “People are radically uni-lingual. They pick spouses based on language … oh, and by the way, picking people who live near them rates even higher.”
Of course we are attracted to people whose church-going schedule doesn’t challenge us, and of course those people share our worldview.
But academics have a huge religion blind spot.
To update an observation Michael Medved first made: More people go to church each month than watch the Super Bowl each year. Religion is a big part of life for most Americans. But it is relegated to a side-room in academia and the media.
Which was, by the way, the mentality that the Church targeted with Vatican II. As Gaudium et Spes put it, the “split between the faith which many profess and their daily lives deserves to be counted among the more serious errors of our age.”
Our faith identity is our deepest identity. Just ask my wife.
Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., and editor of The Gregorian speech digest.