Thus, the major argument posed by Wolfinger and Wilcox, based on data from the Fragile Families and Child Well-Being study of 2001, is that “religious participation by fathers,” whether married or unmarried, is “consistently associated with better relationships among new parents in urban America” or those families that live within a major city. But overall, the results of Wolfinger and Wilcox’s 2008 study suggests that “religious effects vary more by gender than they do by marital status” (1311), meaning that men appear to be “more motivated than women to invest in relationships” based on the traditional views of marriage and family and in which religion plays a central role in the overall function of the family (1311).
Wolfinger and Wilcox devote a good section of this article to the traditional effects of religion on American families. For example, despite the on-going debate over what exactly constitutes a family in relation to the growing number of non-traditional families headed by a single father or mother or two men or women, religion “continues to have the most relevance in actual everyday living” when it comes to family structure and function. This relevance is mostly due to the fact that organized religions have long stressed the importance of sacredness related to martial vows, especially related to Roman Catholicism which views marriage as “a covenantal relationship that
mirrors the relationship between Christ and the church” (Wolfinger & Wilcox, 1312). Also, organized religions or religious institutions continue to support and encourage “marriage-related norms, such as sexual fidelity, affection, and forgiveness” which overall can help married couples to maintain their commitments, “avoid unnecessary conflict, and deal with their disagreements constructively (Wolfinger & Wilcox, 1313). In addition, religious participation and adhering to the “rituals associated with church attendance” appears to increase a married couple’s commitment to religious and social norms “and their sense of solidarity with one another” (Wolfinger & Wilcox, 1313).
These facts related to religion and marriage cannot be disputed, due to a number of studies conducted over the last twenty years or so that fully support Wolfinger and Wilcox’s conclusions. The same holds true for our text which also address the role and impact of religion and religious participation in America’s families. However, Wolfinger and Wilcox’s assumptions and conclusions in the section entitled “Religion, Gender, and Relationship Quality” are wide open to dispute and speculation, due to the fact that studies on this aspect are lacking with some containing erroneous information or data that is quite outdated.
Wolfinger and Wilcox also provide two hypothesis related to religion and families based on their findings–1), that being religious “is associated with more supportive
behaviors, more positive assessments of intimate relationships, and better overall relationship quality” when to comes to traditional families living in urban areas and that the “effects of religiosity (are) stronger for men than for women and stronger for married couples than for unmarried couples;” and 2), that married couples in urban America with a strong religious sense of duty “engage in more supportive relationship behavior and enjoy higher levels of relationship happiness” (1316).
I should point out two areas in these hypothesis which I wholeheartedly disagree with–first, that being religious does not necessarily guarantee that a family will be happy and have positive familial relationships; and second, that the “effects of religiosity (are) stronger for. . . married couples than for unmarried couples” which sounds a bit unreasonable if not illogical. This is because many gay and lesbian couples with either children of their own from previous marriages or attained through adoption have been shown to be just as dedicated to their relationships as straight and traditionally married male and female couples, even when these non-traditional couples are self-confessed atheists.
As to the impact of gender and religious faith or belief on marital satisfaction, Wolfinger and Wilcox conclude that the “association between religion and the romantic relationships of urban parents varies by gender but not by marital status” and that “religious attendance is linked to better relationships among both married and
unmarried couples” (1322). Therefore, gender does play a significant role related to marital satisfaction and happiness. Also, it is clear that when a father is involved in some type of religious practice or religious participation that marital happiness and satisfaction for both the man and the woman are positively affected, not to mention the positive impact on young children within the family structure.
Wolfinger, Nicholas H., & Wilcox, W. Bradford. “Happily Ever After? Religion, Marital Status, Gender, and Relationship Quality in Urban Families.” Social Forces 86