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Devout mothers are financially vulnerable

This is what the Santorums, Dobsons and Bauers don’t tell the women living under the rules of the AmTaliban. I guess these women assume the sanctity of marriage is held in such high regard by husbands on the Right that they are protected from the possibility of divorce — and all the misery that can come with it. They are wrong.

A look at women who describe themselves as conservative Christians suggests that their work choices make them vulnerable in this divorce-prone culture. As a group, these women leave school, marry and have children at younger ages than other women. As a result, they are more likely to work less and to gravitate toward traditionally female jobs, both things that keep hourly earnings low.

Their decisions, an expression of the value they place on families, aren’t necessarily a problem, said Jennifer Glass, a University of Iowa researcher who is analyzing the trends.

The problem is that conservative Christian families have a divorce rate just as high as the rest of America.

To Glass, that means more single mothers are unqualified for good-paying jobs. ”Their beliefs are predicated on lifelong marriage, that women are more protected in these marriages,” Glass said, “and we know this is not the case.”

One-quarter of Americans describe themselves as part of the conservative Christian faith community — variously called ”conservative Protestants,” ”conservative Christians” or ”religious fundamentalists.” Their views on political and social issues such as abortion and gay rights have received a lot of attention. So Glass concentrated on the movement’s impact on women and work. Her findings come from the National Survey of Families and Households, an ongoing federal project. The divorce comparisons come from a survey by Barna Research Group in Ventura, Calif., which specializes in research around religion, and divorce rates in Bible Belt states as compared to others.

Religion and family historian Allan Carlson has no quarrel with Glass’ facts. ”That’s exactly what I would have expected,” said Carlson, president of the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society in Rockford, Ill., which promotes the ”natural family” as essential to society.

What gets complicated is what to do about the numbers. Carlson wants to make divorce harder, to save more marriages. Glass wants women to think twice before derailing their ability to earn a good living.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding