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Related: Natural family planning and divorce rates

A friend of mine attended Catholic Mass today and shared that the homily was entirely about contraception. From her summary, the gist was that the priest suggested that artificial contraception has directly contributed to increases in divorce and infidelity among married couples.

To back this up, here's some other similar statements:

Janet Smith, Catholic Education Resource Center

Why did the divorce rate double between the 1960s and the 1970s? ... If 80 percent of women are using some form of contraception, that makes a lot of women and a lot of men think that there is no problem with having sex with someone who is married to someone else. Many people had multiple sexual partners before they married. They don't see any particular reason to stop after they get married. Because, you see, sex was no big deal before they got married. There's no particular reason to think that it's a big deal after marriage.


The widespread problem of divorce in modern society can be laid fairly and squarely at the feet of the contraceptive mentality and the warped view of self, sexuality and married love that it entails. Proof of this can be seen in the extremely low divorce rates among couples who do not use contraception.

Catholic Source

But the evidence is clear that this is not the case. Even as early as four years after contraceptives were first tested, researchers found that marriages in which contraceptives were used were twice as likely to end in divorce than marriages in which there was no contraceptive use. (Grant MD, Ellen Sexual Chemistry: Understanding Our Hormones, The Pill, and HRT. Mandarin Paperbacks, London, 1994.)


Artificial birth control also opened the door for an increase in pre-marital sex and adulterous relations.

There are some great responses and issues addressed at the related question about NFP divorce rates above, however I'd like to focus specifically on the historical divorce and infidelity rates and ask:

Have any studies focused on/attempted to specifically isolate whether or not contraceptives alone have caused (in part or whole) these rate increases?

In other words, has some study been able to conclude that, on average, some Persons A and B will divorce or be unfaithful in marriage in the presence of readily available contraceptives, but otherwise wouldn't have done so?

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There is rarely a single cause of divorce. Divorces tend to be caused by a build of of lots of issues over time. I would note that the divorce rates in areas where personal responsibility is the norm rather than the exception is much lower. Sadly many of these areas also have less rights for women making an apple to apple comparison impossible. – Chad Mar 5 '12 at 14:15
I think the premise of the question is mistaken; IIRC although divorce rates were on the rise until the early 1990's (like pretty much every other measure poor social condition, like crime rates) they've leveled off and dropped since then. I was reading something about this earlier (more specifically, that there was no "golden age" in the 1960's), I'll look it up later and post an answer maybe. – Tacroy Mar 5 '12 at 21:44
I think the general argument is weak because it confuses correlation with causation. Many things changed at the same time as the availability of contraception. Some countries didn't even legalise either until recently (e.g. Republic of Ireland didn't revoke the constitutional prohibition on divorce until 1996 less than a decade after legalising any form of contraception). – matt_black Mar 5 '12 at 22:56
@Tacroy: Your comment would be awesome if you end up looking the info back up and turning it into an answer! – Hendy Mar 5 '12 at 23:16
@matt_black: I agree, though it'd be nice to definitively answer in this vein. Both your line of thinking and Tacroy's could illustrate this nicely. – Hendy Mar 5 '12 at 23:17

3 Answers 3

The premise of this question is incorrect; there has been no increase in divorce rates in recent years, and in fact they have been decreasing since 1996. (raw data here if you want to look through it - but it's really raw, pdf table ew).

Edit: oh right and infidelity has been basically flat. (that article is trying to say it's gone down, but honestly their numbers look like noise)

However, the other half of this question is sort of correct - there has been an increase in the usage of contraceptives over the last decade, as can be seen in this document from the CDC (pdf page 26, internal numbering page 18).

So no, I doubt there's been any actual study done on whether or not divorce rates correlate positively with contraceptive use - the numbers just aren't there to even begin doing that. If anything, you would be looking for a study on whether or not contraceptive rates correlate negatively with divorce rates.

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Perhaps the original claim is misunderstood: perhaps the claim isn't that contraceptives in society increase society's divorce rate, but that contraceptives in your (individual, personal) life increase your likelihood of divorce. If that's the claim, the answer shouldn't be based on historical data but on current data. See "Proof of this can be seen in the extremely low divorce rates among couples who do not use contraception" in the OP. – ChrisW Mar 6 '12 at 4:04
@ChrisW I'm not sure I understand. Are you claiming that it is possible for contraceptives to have one effect on the probability of getting divorced at an individual scale, but the opposite effect on the divorce rate at a societal scale? I must admit I'm at a loss as to how that would work given the data. And the quote from the OP sounds a lot like storks delivering babies; there is a common confounding factor in that couples who never use contraceptives are also likely to be highly religious, and have many children. – Tacroy Mar 6 '12 at 6:34
@ChrisW The data does not rule out your interpretation; however, it does greatly constrain the effect of contraception on divorce, since 99% of all women use some form of it yet divorce rates have still fallen a little bit. If there is an effect there, it must be very very small to have been swamped out by whatever third factor is causing a slight decline in divorce. There's a point at which effects just aren't significant enough to worry about. – Tacroy Mar 6 '12 at 14:49
If there has been little shift in contraception use in the last ten years, then even if there a strong correlation it would be overridden by another factor. – DJClayworth Mar 6 '12 at 15:46
I'm afraid that statement is simply wrong. If contraception rate remains constant, then any change in divorce rate tells us nothing about the effect of contraception on divorce. It might be extremely strong or zero. – DJClayworth Mar 7 '12 at 8:24

As others have pointed out, there are problems with the original questions, but that does not invalidate the original idea.

A primary usage of contraceptives is to prevent children, and we know they are rather effective at this.

And apparently "The divorce rate among couples with children is 40 percent lower than couples without children" [1]. I have been unable to find any data on how that changes with more vs less children, but the number of children in the parents families also have a large effect on their future divorce risk [2].

So, as contraceptives are used and are so effective at preventing children, it would seem that they do increase divorce rates, indirectly.

Unfortunately, I can not find any data on if their is perhaps more infidelity in marriages that eventually end up divorcing, but it would not be an unreasonable hypothesis to suggest that something that weakens marriage would also increase infidelity.

Children birthed (TFR) are strongly inversely correlated to Contraceptive use (CPR): enter image description here enter image description here

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Your first citation doesn't include the quote you list. Did you perhaps paste the wrong link? – ChrisInEdmonton Nov 3 at 21:22
Just because contraceptives are used to prevent children does not mean that couples that use contraceptives do not have children. – called2voyage Nov 3 at 21:28
@ChrisInEdmonton Sorry, has the linked reversed, it is fixed now. – Jonathon Wisnoski Nov 3 at 21:34
@called2voyage No, but it does mean that couples who do not use contraceptives will have more children than couples who do use them. There really is no such thing as a childless marriage for a couple who do not use contraceptives (at least statistically speaking). – Jonathon Wisnoski Nov 3 at 21:38
@JonathonWisnoski That is a claim I would like to see proof for. There are lots of things that can cause childlessness aside from contraceptives. – called2voyage Nov 3 at 21:42

Virtually every statement in the so-called "supporting" documentation that contraception causes divorce/infidelity engages in logical fallacy, or misinterpretation/misreading of statistics, or both.

Thus, while we can't definitively rule out that contraception causes divorce, we have to, based on the evidence presented, find contraception to be utterly unproven as a cause for divorce/infidelity.

This is akin to the situation where one declares that (for instance) "diabetes treatment causes cancer!" Because after introducing the diabetes treatment, those people who were at risk for both maladies were now not dying from diabetes and it's complications, and were instead dying from their cancer. A scientifically naive and intellectually ignorant reading of the statistics, however, allows one to apply one's own biases and interpretations.

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The central argument of this answer is theoretical in nature. We do not allow answers based uniquely on common sense or pure logic. Answers which are wholly based on a theoretical model are generally downvoted and may be deleted. See FAQ: What are theoretical answers?

Maybe what you say is right, maybe not. On this site you have to demonstrate what you say has credibility by showing reliable sources. Do this or face down voting and closure. – matt_black Nov 3 at 23:38

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