People who had Humanist wedding ceremonies have a lower rate of divorce compared to those who were married in a church. Humanists UK obtained the information from the Scottish government via a Freedom of Information request.
The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service said that Humanist weddings, which have been legal in Scotland since 2005 and began overtaking religious weddings in 2012, have a pretty good survival rate:
The statistics… reveal that since Humanist ceremonies began couples married in them are:
- Three times less likely to divorce than Roman Catholic marriages over the same period.
- More than two times less likely to divorce than Church of Scotland marriages.
- Almost four times less likely to divorce than civil marriages.
In 2017-18, the last year full figures are available, there were 5,702 humanist marriages in Scotland.
A breakdown of the figures shows that for marriages that have taken place in the past five years humanist weddings had a divorce rate of 1.7 in every 1,000, whereas civil ceremonies were 7.3.
The Church of Scotland divorce rate for marriages less than five years old was 5.8 in 1,000 and for Roman Catholic weddings it was five.
Why is that? The numbers don’t tell the story, obviously, but here’s my theory: If you’re having a non-religious ceremony, it’s likely because you and your partner chose that route. You were willing to upset family members who wanted a traditional wedding because it was meaningful to the two of you, and if you are that committed to each other, it bodes well for your future together. (Humanist weddings also don’t come with a set script; even if you’re borrowing from a template, the couples usually write their own vows and choose their own readings.)
Compare that to, say, a church wedding. Much of it is pre-scripted. There’s pressure from the family. You may have religious reasons to get married before you’re personally ready to make that leap. You get the idea. It’s not that those weddings aren’t successful — they are, very often — but when you rewind the tape on two people who split up, I’m not surprised that there’s a greater likelihood of a religious wedding in their past.
(I would make the same argument for religion as a whole. If you were raised in a particular religion, you have a higher chance of leaving it than you would if you had adopted that belief system voluntarily. When you make the decision, it already suggests a level of commitment.)
There are other possible reasons, too:
Harry Benson, research director at the Marriage Foundation said the figures were “sensible” but there are “caveats”.
“It may be that humanists are older or richer than most, either of which would account for their apparently lower divorce rates,” he told Radio 4’s Sunday programme.
“However couples with a shared faith or worldview tend to do better, which might well also apply to humanist couples. And as social pressure to marry has reduced, divorce rates have been tumbling across the board as fewer couples ‘slide’ into marriage and more ‘decide’.”
What the data doesn’t tell us is if these results are universal or unique to Scotland. One Catholic official also rejected the numbers, saying that it’s too early to tell if Humanist weddings are more “successful” by this measure because they haven’t been around that long:
A spokesman for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Scotland claimed the “fatal flaw” in the statistics was that Humanist weddings had not been around long enough to draw meaningful conclusions.
He said: “The average length of marriages in Scotland is around 30 years. Humanist marriages have been available for around 13 years. It will be at least 17 years before we can determine whether humanist marriages last any longer than religious marriages.
We can still compare weddings that took place within the past 13 years — that’s apples to apples — and the data points to the same conclusion:
Those short purple bars represent the lower rates of divorce for couples that had Humanist weddings.
It does leave open the possibility that some divorces only occur after quite a long time together. Still, the data doesn’t look promising for the Church.