The Dynamics of Interfaith Relationships

Abstract: 

The purpose of this research is to examine the relationship of interfaith dating age, education, and economic status. The literature suggests that dating behavior is influenced by religious beliefs. The data for this study were collected from Yahoo!® personal advertisements found within nine major regions of the United States (using the General Social Survey categories). Nine cities were chosen from each region along with the corresponding Yahoo! personal advertising daters. The final weighted sample consisted of 2,064 daters. The results of this study may be used as a foundation for future in-depth research.

Table of Contents: 

    Introduction

    Traditionally, in American society, it has been customary to marry within the same background, which is known as endogamy (Crohn, 1995). According to Albert Gordon (1964), “[t]he breakdown of old forms and patterns of behavior, so characteristic of our day, and the consequent growth of individualism must certainly be regarded as a factor contributing to the increase in mixed marriages” (p. 57).

    In the United States, dating people of other faiths is not as contentious as in the past. Today in America, we hold an individualistic philosophy. This ideology allows for personal choice of the individual and gives the self the utmost importance (Crohn, 1995; Link, Moore, Phelan, & Stueve, 1995). This individualistic outlook shapes the way we now look at interfaith relationships. Currently people accept exogamy (marriage outside of a specific group) in interfaith dating relationships. Many people find interfaith relationships to be enriching experiences (Crohn, 1995).

    The intention of this research is to identify characteristics of daters who participate in and accept interfaith dating through deductive nomothetic social research. Through the examination of the functions and types of dating, we can better depict the attitudes toward religiously exogamous relationships. The label of “religious” or “spiritual” is a key component in interfaith romances. To evaluate the acceptance levels of interfaith dating among Americans, three theories were conceptualized based on assorted social variables: education, income, and age. This report will inform the outcome of the hypotheses built on these theories in relation to the acceptance of interfaith dating.

    Literature Review

    Functional Dating

    Dating is essential for people because it is the first step leading to a long intimate relationship (Cherlin, 2005; Gordon, 1964; Markstrom-Adams, 1991; Prince, 1956). People within the current American society have many options when it comes to dating. Common sources for acquiring companions may include the personal ads in a local newspaper, speed dating, or the new trend of Internet dating advertising. One may join an online dating service that allows him or her to find a soul mate through just a few clicks.

    Dating is a crucial aspect for maturation (Crohn, 1995). Building intimate relationships is healthy for expanding interpersonal relationships and allows an individual’s identity to develop (Crohn, 1995). According to the popular trends, dating leads to marriage; it is the first step to lifelong commitment (Cherlin, 2005). Past research has placed an emphasis on mate selection, or spouse selection, over other aspects of the dating schema (Cherlin, 2005; Gordon, 1964; Markstrom-Adams, 1991; Prince, 1956).

    Casual dating and serious dating are factors that greatly impact interfaith relationships (Cherlin, 2005; Markstrom-Adams, 1991; Prince, 1956). Many teens feel that dating is part of the process of finding a marital partner. Serious dating, or “going steady,” is a step toward the partner becoming a potential marital spouse. Studies have found that at this level of dating most people think it is not acceptable to date between faiths. Casual dating is dating for recreational motives. However, the relationship frequently does not proceed past this point. In this instance, interfaith dating is tolerable as long as one tries to convert the other to his or her own faith (Barnett, 1962; Markstrom-Adams, 1991; Prince, 1956).

    Religion and Faith

    In the United States, the individualism ideology has a great effect on religion and spirituality (Gordon, 1964; Heelas, Woodhead, Seel, Szerszynski, & Tusting, 2005; Hughes & Dickson, 2005; Larson & Olson, 2006). Religion is the set of beliefs, practices, rituals, and events that are common or shared with or among a group of people, thus creating a social network, and there is a clear distinction between the institution of religion and the role of spirituality in people’s lives (Heelas et al., 2005; Hughes & Dickson, 2005; Larson & Olson, 2006).

    Spirituality refers to beliefs in the divine particular to an individual (Hughes & Dickson, 2005; Larson & Olson, 2006). The individual’s spirituality develops by taking things from other religions that best suit one’s personal needs (Coomes, 2004; Heelas et al., 2005; Hughes & Dickson, 2005; Larson & Olson, 2006). Spirituality shapes the individual’s morals, standards, and perception in daily situations (Heelas et al., 2005; Hughes & Dickson, 2005).

    Recently in the United States there has been a tendency for people to place less importance on the religious affiliation of members of their social networks (Gordon, 1964; Larson & Olson, 2006; Schwartz, 2000). Friends and lovers need to share the same morals and values but not the same religion. Thus, people disregard their own religious affiliation and put less emphasis on the importance of their partner’s religious views as well (Brody, n.d.; Gordon, 1964; Hughes & Dickson, 2005; Larson & Olson, 2006).

    Education Theory

    Education leads people to believe and behave in a progressive way, especially when looking at the values of civil liberties (Gordon, 1964; Jayson, 2006; Link et al., 1995; Prince, 1956; Weil, 1982). This traditional ideology is only true when the “official culture” is based on liberal and progressive perspectives. The customary idea of the educational system is that through socialization one learns liberal or democratic values. Education shapes an individual’s future viewpoint. Diversity and personal rights may cause people to take a more individualistic perspective on social behavior (Coomes, 2004; Gordon, 1964). This liberal ideology usually comes from the democratic structure of the political organization in a society (Gordon, 1964; Link et al., 1995; Weil, 1982).

    Income Theory

    As past research shows, the higher one is on the socioeconomic ladder (i.e., upper class, middle class, and lower class), the more liberal his or her views on institutional issues become. Therefore, the highly educated are expected to be more willing to intermarry (Crohn, 1995). This is based on the “working class authoritarianism,” or the belief in obedience and conventional behavior, especially in relationship to authority (Levit & Thayer, 1969; Link et al., 1995). Members of the lower classes have less access to the higher education system. They usually work in an environment that encourages conformity and standardized laws, rather than diversity (Barber, 1957; Coleman & Rainwater, 1978; Levit & Thayer, 1969). In contrast, individuals from the upper classes are able to afford higher education and therefore have the ability to work in an environment that encourages individuality and diversity.

    Age Theory

    A high percentage of the younger generations approve of diversity in the United States. Gordon (1964) noticed the growing acceptance of dating and marriage among people of different races, religious backgrounds, and other societal circumstances. The recognition of diversity will continue to grow within the United States due to the increasing mixed population and intermarriage observed in modern society (Jayson, 2006). Therefore those who are younger are likely to be more open to the idea of interfaith dating.

    The “Millennial” generation consists of the population born in the early 1980s and thereafter (Jayson, 2006). They are putting the idea of religion in the back of their minds and meeting people based on similar interests (2006). Although one cannot accurately depict the “Millennial” generation’s attitude on interfaith dating, a comparison of age differences may reveal changes with age.

    Social Forces Working Against Interfaith Dating

    People who engage in interfaith relations may face separation from their church, their family, and a loss of identity (Schwartz, 2000). When intermarrying, a person should be prepared to detach from his or her family and build a new one. However, psychologically one may feel they must get approval from their family/kin network (Barnett, 1962; Gordon, 1964; Markstrom-Adams, 1991; Prince, 1956; Schwartz, 2000). When approval is not granted due to the partner’s faith, quarrels commonly ensue. Interfaith couples often face ridicule from family, friends, and religious leaders. Converting to their partner’s religion may make the person feel they are abandoning their established religious community (Markstrom-Adams, 1991; Prince, 1956; Schwartz, 2000). Many times families are afraid of damnation for the family member who leaves (Barnett, 1962; Schwartz, 2000).

    Church leaders and parental involvement influence the choices and views of interfaith daters. Church leaders are inclined to bluntly insist that there should be no dating across religions. Conversely, parents have a tendency to socialize their children to their values rather than demand compliance to their wishes (Barnett, 1962; Markstrom-Adams, 1991). Parents influence their children’s social interactions instead of demanding their children date within the same religion (Prince, 1956).

    Another force against interfaith dating is the ideal of social distance. Social distance refers to the social interaction gap between members of inferior and superior socioeconomic levels (Barnett, 1962; Cavan, 1971; Hughes & Dickson, 2005; Markstrom-Adams, 1991). There are two aspects that reinforce the principle of social distance: vertical social distance and horizontal social distance. The vertical social distance, also known as stratification, is formed from a status hierarchy based on class, economic level, education, and occupation. The greater the difference in these social aspects, the less likely one is to intermarry (Barnett, 1962; Cavan, 1971; Markstrom-Adams, 1991). Horizontal social distance, or differentiation, refers to the idea that all are on the same plane, but hold different beliefs. When looking at the overall effect of social distance, one can conclude that differences between a couple’s social status and religion lead to more social distance. If the couple holds the same social status, then religion would be the determining factor leading to marriage. If the couple holds the same religious background, then the social status would be the determining factor leading to marriage (Cavan, 1971).

    Finally, the literature has shown that people who are religiously devout are less likely to date or marry one of a different faith. Nonetheless, interfaith relationships continue to increase (Barnett, 1962; Hughes & Dickson, 2005).

    Purpose and Hyotheses

    The central focus of past research has been on interfaith marriages. There is little information about the dating aspect of interfaith relationships (Larson & Olson, 2006). There is a great deal of information on interracial dating but there are many more aspects to take into consideration when dealing with religion (i.e., holidays, family ties, rituals, practices, morals, and children) (Schwartz, 2000). Current research has identified a correlation between religion and marital satisfaction, but there are no direct links (Hughes & Dickson, 2005; Larson & Olson, 2006). Often, couples belonging to the same faith background share similar marital problems as couples from interfaith marriages (Larson & Olson, 2006). The only difference between couples who are intermarried and those who are not is the aspect of religion in the relationship; therefore we tend to recognize their marital problems as unique. This study seeks to show the increase in interfaith dating acceptance.

    Hypotheses

    Three variables will be tested in relation to interfaith dating: education, income, and age. It is expected that education and the acceptance of interfaith dating should have a positive correlation. According to the education theory, people who obtain higher education are more accepting toward interfaith dating. Thus, it is expected that those with a higher level of education should show a greater readiness to date outside of their faith.

    Income and the acceptance of interfaith dating should show a positive association. The income theory proposes that working environments have great influence over the general attitudes of people. Through socialization, the workers of each class approve the set values and principles for the group. Those within the economic upper class should be more tolerant of interfaith dating. If this premise is true, then the research should illustrate that those who make a higher income should also be more likely to date outside their faith.

    Finally, age and interfaith intimacy should have an inverse relationship, based on the age theory. It is proposed that those younger in age will be more accepting of interfaith relationships.

    Methods

    Participants and Materials

    This study used content analysis of Yahoo!® Internet personal advertisements. This analysis allows for a limited comparison of interfaith daters to other daters. Because one cannot identify individual people from the advertisement, no ethical or safety hazards were present.

    Yahoo! personal advertisements were collected in June 2005. Daters were limited to persons residing within the United States. After collecting all the personal advertisements, daters were classified into the nine regions defined by the General Social Survey: Pacific, Mountain, West South Central, West North Central, East South Central, East North Central, New England, South Atlantic, and Middle Atlantic. Data were collected using a stratified sampling technique. The largest city in each region was automatically selected by population. Three medium-sized cities with a population over 25,000 were randomly selected from each region. Five small cities with a population less than 25,000 were randomly selected from each region. Overall nine cities from each region were selected to provide a diverse sample. Twenty males and twenty females were selected within the largest populated cities. Five males and five females were selected from cities with a population over 25,000. For cities with a population less than 25,000, two males and two females were selected. If there were no daters for a selected city, a corresponding city with the same population size was chosen.

    Procedures

    To account for the lack of random sampling, the percentage of individuals in each region and the recorded size of the city according to the U.S. Census records were gathered. This information was used to weight the region and city sample gathered through the data collection. In order to account for the disproportionate numbers chosen in the larger cities, the number of daters from large cities was divided by 2.5, the number of daters from medium-sized cities was divided by 1.8, and the number of daters from small cities was left alone due to the small population size. The final weighted sample included 2,064 online daters.

    Daters who completed Yahoo! personal advertisements filled out a form that included social and personal characteristics of themselves, and the desired traits for their prospective partners. These characteristics included age, sex, race, education, income, political orientation, and religion. With this pre-coded data, the variables of education, income, and age were analyzed with the acceptance rate of interfaith dating as the dependent variable. Each variable was divided into two categories: education—no degree and degree; income—less than $50,000 annual income and greater than $50,000 annual income; and age—under age 40 and age 40 and older. T tests were used to calculate the significance of the relationship among the variables.

    Results

    The study shows that overall 70% (frequency of 1,462) of the Yahoo! daters said that they accept interfaith dating. About 29.1% do not accept interfaith dating (frequency of 602). Table 1 contains the comparisons of the variable categories for education, income, and age. All of the variables in the table were tested across all Yahoo! daters.

    The first variable tested was education. Among daters with a degree, 69.3% accepted interfaith dating. Among daters without a degree, 71.3% accepted interfaith dating. The difference between these two means is not great enough to achieve statistical significance (t = 0.938, p =.349). Daters in the low and the high category of education were equally likely to date outside of their faith.

    The second variable tested was income. A significant correlation was not found between income and interfaith dating acceptance. Among daters making more than $50,000, 77.4% accepted interfaith dating whereas 72.3% of those earning $50,000 or less accepted interfaith dating. The difference between these two categories is not statistically significant (t = 1.662, p = .097).

    Comparison of the age variable categories did show a statistically significant relationship between age and the acceptance of interfaith dating. Among daters age 40 and older, 66.7% accepted interfaith dating, whereas 73.5% of daters under 40 years old accepted interfaith dating (t = 3.305, p =.001). This suggests that daters under age 40 are more likely to date individuals of different faiths.

    Because no strong relationships were found for two of the three predictor variables, specifying a particular religious group might reveal a pattern within groups. Christians are the largest religious group in the United States. By examining this subdivision, an enhanced analysis may show how the three variables (education, income, and age) affect the approval of interfaith dating among this group.

    The variable of education was tested for Christian daters. Even among Christians, education and interfaith dating did not show a significant relationship. As shown in Table 2, among daters holding a degree, 31.1% accepted interfaith dating, whereas among daters with no degree, 27.1% accepted interfaith dating. No significant relationship was found because Christians from both groups are just as likely to date outside of their faith (t = 1.481, p = 0.139).

    The income variable was tested for Christian daters. Comparing the means of the two variable categories for income revealed a 30.5% rate of acceptance of interfaith dating for daters with greater than $50,000 annual income and a 25.8% rate for daters with less than $50,000 annual income. The difference was not statistically significant (t =1.132, p =.258). These results suggest that Christian daters from both variable categories are just as likely to date outside of their faith.

    The variable of age was tested again; however, the pattern of the results was very different. For those under 40 years of age, 20.0% accepted interfaith dating, compared to 27.6% of daters 40 years and older. The difference was not statistically significant (t = 0.889, p = .374). This shows that Christians of all ages are similar in their attitudes toward interfaith dating.

    Discussion

    The literature leads to the idea that education and progressive viewpoints had a positive correlation (Barber, 1957; Gordon, 1964; Levit & Thayer, 1969; Link et al., 1995; Prince, 1956). After collecting all the data, there is not a strong relationship between education and interfaith dating. Daters with and without degrees, from both Christian and all other faiths, were just as likely to date between faiths. Therefore, the hypothesis of a positive relationship between education and the acceptance of interfaith dating is rejected.

    Previous literature recognizes that higher incomes lead to progressive morals and values (Barber, 1957; Coleman & Rainwater, 1978; Link et al., 1995). Therefore, daters with annual incomes greater than $50,000 should have been more likely than those with lower incomes to accept interfaith dating. No significant relationships were found linking income to interfaith dating acceptance for either Christians or daters from all other faiths. Daters with high incomes were no more likely than those with low incomes to accept interfaith dating.

    Past research suggested that income and education are positively intercorrelated. The texts conclude that individuals with a higher level of education are more likely to have a greater income than individuals without higher levels of education (Barber, 1957; Coleman & Rainwater, 1978; Gordon, 1964; Levit & Thayer, 1969; Link et al., 1995). Education and income as separate variables were not contributing factors in the acceptance of interfaith dating. However, a more in-depth study of the effect of the interrelationship of education and income on interfaith dating may uncover other factors that can explain this lack of correlation.

    Although neither the education nor the income variables were significantly related to acceptance of interfaith dating, age was significantly related to interfaith dating attitudes. A comparison of the acceptance rates across age categories revealed a significant relationship among all faiths, but not among Christians. Among all daters, those under age 40 were more likely to date between faiths than those age 40 and older. This relationship may be due to other factors as well. The literature suggests that younger daters are more likely to date between faiths (Coomes, 2004; Gordon, 1964; Jayson, 2006; Prince, 1956). Only further research can determine possible compounding variables. Christians under age 40 and age 40 and older showed no difference in the likelihood of participating in interfaith dating. Therefore, a strong relationship was not found between age and acceptance of interfaith dating for Christian daters.

    When looking at the number of people who accepted interfaith dating (1,462 or 70% of online daters), this study shows that this figure represents a significant portion of the dating population, which needs further examination. It is also important to note that the Christian acceptance means are significantly lower than the general population means (25.8% – 31.1% for Christian daters compared to 66.7% – 77.4% for all faiths). Because the general population is composed of people from many different backgrounds, the religious meaning behind dating outside of one’s faith has different significance. In some religions it is important to date within one’s own religion. This may be what is happening when we look at the Christians. It is also important to note that a part of the general population is composed of those who are not spiritual or religious at all. This may also contribute to the higher averages for the general population over the Christian averages.

    Conclusion

    The overall acceptance levels of interfaith dating were very strong among all the online daters. This implies that people involved in online dating are becoming more open to diversity. The results of this study show that there may be a trend toward acceptance of interfaith romance among the younger generations of Americans; however, this study did not allow for a completely accurate depiction of the Millennial generation’s attitudes toward interfaith dating. When considering this study, one must take into account the range in ages examined. This may explain why some of the results were not as significant as expected. The majority of the people analyzed in this study were older than the Millennial generation. Their influence has, and will likely continue, to affect the younger generation’s acceptance of diversity.

    People within the American culture are constantly surrounded by cosmopolitan ways of life. This lifestyle produces a postmodern philosophy that consistently encourages individuals to explore and try new things so that we can become more knowledgeable about the world. The westernized interpretation of individualism is slowly transforming our social norms. The structured endogamous society of our culture is quickly changing to an exogamous one. One may construe from this study that interfaith dating will likely continue to be a part of our changing society.

    Further research is needed using qualitative and quantitative research methods; the validity of the study will be increased if both methods are combined. This study was limited due to time, money, and resources. Future research should apply qualitative methods to this topic. With more resources, self-administered interviews of individuals and couples from interfaith relationships could be conducted. This may provide answers for questions not covered by this research, such as why people participate in interfaith dating and who is most likely to participate in interfaith dating. This would also allow for characteristics of the individuals to be identified. A combination of research methods is advantageous because it allows for more triangulation of insights gained using the different methods, and thus increases validity of the study.

    In conjunction with the addition of interviews, national telephone or mail surveys should be conducted. This would allow for a national probability sample that may be generalized to the U.S. population. This survey should address dating styles, religious affiliations, age differences, and acceptance of diversity. It is important to keep the questions relevant and unbiased. This technique may provide more qualitative data. However, the characteristics of the subjects can be recorded and coded for the use of quantitative data as well. Comparison to past quantitative research studies may show growth or decline in relationships across longitudinal studies. By analyzing the information from previous surveys such as the National Survey of Families and Households, the National Longitudinal Surveys, and the General Social Survey, the general figures may be compared to current research. The data would be more representative of the U.S. population in addition to an increase in the validity of the findings.

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    Table 1: Comparison of the Effects of Education, Income, and Age on the Acceptance of Interfaith Dating

    Variable Categories N Mean Std. T Sig.
    Edication No Degree 1,203 71.3% accept interfaith dating 0.453 0.938 p = 0.349
    Degree 766 69.3% accept interfaith dating 0.462
    Income Less than 50K 644 72.3% accept interfaith dating 0.448 1.662 p = 0.097
    More than 50K 293 77.4% accept interfaith dating 0.419
    Age Under 40 1,265 73.5% accept interfaith dating 0.442 3.305 p = 0.001**
    40 or Older 799 66.7% accept interfaith dating 0.472

    *N = number, Std. = standard deviation, ** = statistically significant

    Table 2: Comparison of Effects of Education, Income, and Age on the Acceptance of Interfaith Dating among Christians

    Variable Categories N Mean Std. T Sig.
    Edication No Degree 675 27.1% accept interfaith dating 0.445 1.481 p = 0.139
    Degree 502 31.1% aceept interfaith daiting 0.463
    Income Less than 50K 344 25.8% accept interfaith dating 0.438 1.132 p = 0.258
    More than 50K 167 30.5% accept interfaith dating 0.462
    Age Under 40 725 30.0% accept interfaith dating 0.459 0.889 p = 0.374
    40 or Older 479 27.6% accept interfaith dating 0.448

    *N = number, Std. = standard deviation, ** = statistically significant