Does religion help couples stay together?

Great British Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain stunned the programme’s contemporary audience with her traditional views on family and her pride in her role providing for her husband and children.

Despite her husband being chosen for her by her parents, Nadiya chose to renew her vows to her husband in June after twelve happy years of marriage.

She called her husband Abdul her “biggest support” and said it was he who gave her the confidence to apply for the TV competition.

Now research shows that Muslim women are the most likely religious group to be in a long-term, happy relationship.

The report by Marriage Foundation, the think tank dedicated to promoting stable families, is the first ever in the UK to explore the links between religious associations and relationship stability using Millennium Cohort Study data collected from almost 15,000 mothers.

Muslim women were found to favour marriage more than any other religious group. Ninety-four per cent of Muslim women are married compared to only 79 per cent of Christian mothers and 59 per cent of non-religious mothers.

The report rules out the explanation that Muslim women stay with their husband because they are in some way repressed. It finds 31 per cent more Muslim mothers report high relationship happiness compared to non-Muslim mothers.

Research Director of Marriage Foundation, Harry Benson, who compiled the report with Professor Steve McKay of the University of Lincoln, commented: “Religion and culture provide the lens through which individuals see the world, our worldview. It is no surprise that this foundation affects the way we do family.

“While further research is required to draw any definite conclusions why Muslim women tend to do better than any other religious group, we can speculate that the values which accompany their faith put greater emphasis on dedication to the family and relationship stability.

“Relationship success is about give and take. It is about compromise and working as a team. Perhaps Muslim culture instils a greater sense of interdependence and is less embracing of individualism.

“Nadiya’s example shows the power of a couple with a high level of mutual support and team work. Their children will benefit enormously from the stable environment their parents have created for them.”

The report also found Muslim women overwhelmingly likely to choose to marry Muslim men. Ninety-eight per cent of Muslim women have a partner of the same faith, compared to just 59 per cent of Christian women.

Muslim women were found to buck the otherwise universal trend between higher levels of education and greater relationship stability. Muslim parents are the most likely to be unqualified with 54 per cent of mothers and 47 per cent of fathers having no grades higher than a D in their GCSEs.

The study finds religion does have an effect on relationship happiness, with 45 per cent of Christian and 43 per cent of Muslim mothers rating themselves happy with their relationships compared to only 32 per cent of those with no faith.

However, religion ranks bottom of a list of factors behind relationship happiness, age, marital status and education. The only religious group which maintains its advantage regardless of all other factors are Muslim women.

Sir Paul Coleridge, chair and founder of Marriage Foundation, commented: “These findings are truly startling. It appears at first counter intuitive that Muslim women have such successful relationships when many are in arranged marriages.

“In fact, Muslims in arranged marriages have many of the ingredients for a really successful long term marriage. They enter marriage without artificial and unreal ‘celebrity’ expectations or a belief that they merely have to bump into a perfect partner and from then on no effort will be needed.

“In time the ‘perfect partner’ inevitably disappoints. This group on the other hand have no unreal expectations and from the word go, really work hard and fashion their relationship out of the material they are given.

“Doubtless it is in part a consequence of this that they are over 30 per cent more fulfilled and happy than their western sisters.

“No one is suggesting a return to arranged marriages but we can surely all learn a lot about what makes marriages work in the long run from these findings. Shared faith no doubt helps but all couples have it in their power to radically improve their chances of staying together by marrying and keeping on working at it.”


Here you can download the Research Briefing Paper as a PDF and the Press Release where it is available.

Media Links

The Daily Telegraph, 19 November 2016
By John Bingham: Arranged marriages happier, suggests judge

The Telegraph Online, 19th November 2016
By John Bingham: Arranged marriages happier, claims former High Court family judge

The Sun, 19th November 2016
By Lynn Davidson, Whitehall Correspondent: VOW TO BE HAPPY – Arranged marriages lead to happier relationships because ‘couples put more effort in to make them work’

Premier, 21st November 2016
By Alex Williams: Christian mums happier in relationships than non-believers

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