W. Bradford Wilcox and Nicholas H. Wolfinger, Soul Mates: Religion, Sex, Love, and Marriage among African Americans and Latinos, Oxford University Press, 2016, 248 pp., $27.95.
Soul Mates, by academic sociologists W. Bradford Wilcox and Nicholas H. Wolfinger, has one central message: Religious blacks and Hispanics lead more upright, family-oriented lives than their irreligious peers. The authors use an impressive array of statistics, along with personal interview data, to conclude that religion is associated with less violence, criminality, infidelity, and idleness, and with more civility, hard work, honesty, and monogamy.
This is no doubt true, and holds for whites as well. However, irreligious whites are almost always better citizens by these measures than religious blacks and Hispanics, and the associations the authors find between religion and morality are sometimes small.
For example, according to a 2006 study (see Table 1 below), 20 percent of non-churchgoing African-American men aged 18 to 60 reported being in an adulterous relationship, while only 15 percent of more religious black men did.
Table 1 (p. 63): Percentage reporting infidelity
For black women, 26 percent of non-churchgoers and 20 percent of churchgoers reported marital infidelity. Still, it is striking to learn that one in five black women who regularly sit in the pews admits to having an extramarital affair. For white churchgoers, the same study found only five percent of men and seven percent of women admitting they were unfaithful. The rates for secular whites–seven percent for men and 10 percent for women–are still lower than for non-white churchgoers. The authors say little about the racial differences, focusing instead on the conclusion that “for all three groups, regular church attendance makes infidelity less likely.”
Other data show even greater racial disparities. As is shown in Table 2 below, black men are 249 percent more likely to father a child out of wedlock than white men, and are still 142 percent more likely even after the authors “adjust for economic differences.”
Table 2 (p. 77): Percentage higher odds of having a child out of wedlock, compared to whites
|Raw figure||“Adjusted” figure|
The authors also report a negative correlation between church attendance and having an illegitimate child (see Table 3). Here we find that the group most likely to have out-of-wedlock births–black men–are second-to-last in terms of the how much churchgoing relates to them waiting until they are married. White women who attend church frequently reduce their odds of having an illegitimate child by 60 percent, but churchgoing black men decrease their odds by only 23 percent.
Table 3 (p. 92): Reduction in odds of having a child out of wedlock associated with frequent church attendance
These persistent disparities could be seen as undercutting the author’ thesis about the importance of churchgoing, since whites attend church less often then blacks (see Table 4).
White men, who have the lowest rate of marital infidelity, also have the lowest rate of church attendance (21 percent), while black women, who report the highest rates of infidelity, have the highest attendance rate (42 percent). If one ignored race entirely, it would be logical to conclude that churchgoing is associated with less family-oriented lives!
Table 4 (p. 160): Frequent church attendance by race
Most of the data in this book show that whites are more likely than blacks or Hispanics to lead productive, family-oriented lives.
Such was the case in a study of “idleness” among young men, i.e. those who are neither working nor in school (see Table 5). A survey of young men aged 22-26 found that while church attendance corresponded to lower rates of idleness across the board, the percentage of non-churchgoing whites who are “idle” is still lower than the percent of churchgoing “idle” blacks. Interestingly, the rates for Hispanics are very close to those for whites.
Table 5 (p. 56): Percentage of men “idle” (i.e. out of work and out of school)
The percentage of non-churchgoing white men who were incarcerated was, again, lower than the percentage of incarcerated churchgoing black men.
Table 6 (p. 59): Percentage incarcerated
A survey of never-married people who reported two or more sex partners in the previous year showed that staying away from church corresponds with greater promiscuity among all racial groups and both sexes (Table 7). Yet the percentage of non-churchgoing white women and non-churchgoing Hispanic women who reported having two or more sex partners in the previous year was identical to the percentage of black churchgoing women who claimed the same: 18 percent. Furthermore, the percentage of non-churchgoing white men who reported this sexual pattern was identical to the percentage for churchgoing black men.
Table 7 (p.65): Percentage reporting two or more sex partners in the previous year
Despite this book’s emphasis on the importance of churchgoing–and it does appear to be associated with more responsible behavior–race is a often a more reliable indicator.
It may surprise readers to know that for all racial groups, men were more likely than women to think children are essential to happiness, though the differences are usually small (see Table 8). The exception is the six-point disparity between religious Hispanic men and women, at 21 and 15 percent, respectively. In any case, the data confirm the stereotype of family-oriented Hispanics.
Table 8 (p. 91): Percentage of respondents who believe “people can’t be happy without children”
As before, churchgoing is associated with more pro-family attitudes, but not by very much. These consistently small differences raise the question as to why the authors think church attendance is so important. It would be interesting to know whether what the authors call “decent” behavior is associated not just with church attendance but with joining groups of some kind, whether fraternal organizations or sports teams.
To their credit, the authors point out that churchgoing is not a “silver bullet,” and they admit that church attendance does not necessarily cause “decent” behavior–even though they frequently imply that it does. There may be some underlying trait that makes people more likely to be “decent” and go to church, or at least join groups.
Needless to say, the authors never touch on inherent group differences in behavior. Instead, they try to explain black promiscuity by, for example, claiming stupidly that “minorities are more likely to be depicted in a negative light on TV.”
Even so, the authors have written a slightly less biased book than is typical for a discipline dominated by leftists. By putting a premium on church attendance and suggesting that non-whites’ problems have something to do with personal decisions, they imply that it might not be all whitey’s fault.