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  • A More Perfect Union:Modern American Christian-Jewish Marriages
  • Janice McDavit (bio)

Introduction

Although interfaith marriages in the United States have been burgeoning, only a small fraction of psychological literature examines this topic.1 Smaller still is the number of studies focusing on Christian-Jewish interfaith marriages, although there are more than 500,000 of these couples in the United States, growing by about 40,000 each year.2

The research discussed in this article elucidates this gap by examining the state of American Christian-Jewish interfaith marriages today. This study found that, contrary to previous psychological findings as well as some conventional wisdom, people in Christian-Jewish interfaith marriages are just as satisfied with their marriages as are people in same-faith unions. This finding was consistent, even if people reported that their strength of religious faith was high. These results epitomize a recent trend of improved authenticity in American Christian- Jewish marriages.

Psychological Authenticity

Every major school of psychological thought considers authenticity to be essential to a person’s health and happiness.3 One of the major factors comprising authenticity is the degree to which a person feels he/she is living in a manner consistent with his/her self-concept and values.4 The greater the degree, the more authentic a person is.

Interfaith marriage has often been understood and portrayed as the epitome of inauthenticity. There is hardly a more upsetting quandary than to compromise one’s religious values and identity.

A Psychological Basis for a Common Cultural Narrative

American culture is replete with the idea that an interfaith marriage is destined for rocky waters. Television shows such as thirtysomething have commonly presented Christian-Jewish marriages as complicated unions where the Jewish spouse embarks upon a soul-wrenching search for religious identity in a culture dominated by Christmas trees and church bells.5 [End Page 117]

Similarly, anyone walking into his/her local bookstore will find a plethora of self-help books guiding Christian-Jewish couples through dating, marriage, childbirth, and the “December dilemma.”6

Psychologists themselves have demonstrated this cultural bias in the research projects they choose. Many psychologists have designed and analyzed programs dedicated to easing the assumed challenges of a Christian-Jewish marriage.7

Until recently, psychological research has provided evidence that this conventional wisdom is true. Most psychological studies have found a positive correlation between religious homogamy and marital satisfaction. In other words, people in religiously homogamous (same-faith) marriages have been found to be more satisfied with their marriages than have people in religiously heterogamous (interfaith) marriages.

The psychological evidence for this belief first surfaced in the early 1980s, initially revealing a curious gender difference. In 1982, psychologist Norval Glenn found that males were significantly happier in homogamous marriages than heterogamous marriages. There was no difference between Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish males on this issue. Females, however, were equally happy in homogamous and heterogamous marriages. Glenn conjectured that the gender difference might be due to the fact that women are more able to control the “religious socialization” of their children.8

In 1984, psychologist Tim Heaton put Glenn’s speculation to the test. Like Glenn, Heaton found that people in homogamous marriages were more satisfied with their marriages than were people in interfaith unions. In Heaton’s study, both males and females demonstrated this difference.9

Next, Heaton examined Glenn’s hypothesis. According to Glenn, children were the key to the relationship between religious homogamy and marital satisfaction. A man would be happier in a homogamous marriage, Glenn said, because his children were likely to follow his religion, since it would be the same as his wife’s religion. A woman was no happier in a homogamous marriage than a heterogamous one, Glenn contended, because her children followed her religion anyway, so her husband’s religion was not that important to her.10

Heaton statistically controlled for the presence of children in the marriages, eliminating any effect children had on their parents’ marriages. He hypothesized that if Glenn’s arguments were true, there should no longer be a significant difference between the happiness of anyone in a homogamous versus a heterogamous marriage.11

On the contrary, Heaton again found a significant...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1946-2522
Print ISSN
1939-7941
Pages
pp. 117-127
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-17
Open Access
No
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