Several potential pathways, either positive or negative, in the public and private domains of religion may affect family relationships. For example, in many religions, the institution of marriage is sanctified by religious beliefs, rituals, and practices, and cohabitation and divorce is discouraged. These pathways can directly influence decisions that couples make about their relationships. For single parents or divorced adults, for instance, these religious views could be a source of stigma that turns them away from religious institutions (Sullivan, 2006). It is also possible that, to avoid offending their constituents, strict views about marriage are not uniformly promulgated by religious institutions (Wilcox & Wolfinger, 2008).
Religious institutions can also influence marriage and relationships in a number of indirect ways:
- by offering social networks that reinforce religious norms and views of relationships, such as monogamy;
- by offering financial and psychological resources to help keep couples together in times of crises; and
- by providing mentors and peers to model positive relationship and marital behaviors (Wilcox, 2004).
Numerous studies have attempted to understand the link between religion and marriage, although most of these studies draw on population-level data. Several studies examine whether the determinants of marriage outcomes differ by race and ethnicity; however, few focus specifically on the low-income population (Fein, Burstein, Fein, & Lindberg, 2003).