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Facebook study reveals interesting data about marriage and religion

Zac Efron, Michael B. Jordan and Miles Teller, who appear in the romantic comedy "That Awkward Moment" signed a wall during an appearance at Facebook headquarters in San Francisco.
Zac Efron, Michael B. Jordan and Miles Teller, who appear in the romantic comedy "That Awkward Moment" signed a wall during an appearance at Facebook headquarters in San Francisco.
Kimberly White/Getty Images for FilmDistrict

On Wednesday, February 12, Lisa Vaas of Naked Security reported that Facebook recently revealed findings from a study of their users that suggests most people of faith in the United States date or marry people who share similar religious beliefs.

According to Vaas, "Facebook has squeezed its enormous cornucopia of personal user information to come up with analysis of anonymised, aggregated data for.. insights into [the] reported romantic habits and nuptial tendencies. [of people of faith]

"Bear in mind that, again, beyond being anonymised and aggregated, the data crunching was also done on publicly reported religious affiliation. So for anyone that hasn't disclosed their religion on Facebook, they obviously won't be counted."

In the first of a series of Valentine's Day-themed blog posts, Mike Develin of Facebook Data Science discussed some of the things they discovered about the religious affiliations of Facebook users age 21 and older and how they affect their romantic relationships. Among several other interesting findings were some statistics about people in the U.S. that may be surprising.

According to Develin, "Overall, in the United States, 86 percent of relationships are between two people of the same religion. However, this varies significantly depending on which religion...

"We see much stronger tendencies towards endogamy in some religions than others. Mormons and Sikhs, despite being small fractions of the overall population, tend to keep not only marriages but also other relationships within their religion; conversely, Jews, despite having 15 times as many people in the U.S. as Sikhs, are much more likely to intermarry."

Facebook's findings indicate age is a factor in determining whether or not someone will date or marry someone with a different belief system.

According to Develin, "One interesting finding is that people are generally more willing to date people of a different religion than they are to marry them, especially in their twenties.

"... at age 25, 85 percent of marriages are between two people of the same religion, but 72 percent of unmarried relationships are. We also see that marriages between younger people are more likely to be interfaith than marriages between older people."

The study does not offer any explanations for these findings. In the case of people who identify themselves as Christian on Facebook, it may have something to do with younger people embracing liberal theology more and focusing on things such as social causes or church growth instead of conservative evangelical or Catholic theology. Or it could just be that students in college or some kind of postgraduate degree program are more likely to become friends with people who are different than them than people who are older and out in the workforce.

The study results make perfect sense for people who identify themselves as Mormons. Young people who are active in the Latter-Day Saint church devote a great deal of their time and energy to missions and other activities where they would associate mostly with others who share their beliefs. It is less clear why people who self-identify as Jews are more likely to intermarry than other groups. Develin's post didn't go into detail about how observant the people they studied were, or any other factors that may have influenced the data.

If the results of Facebook's study are accurate, then maybe there is something to the old cliche that young people should be looking for someone to date at church. The data seems to suggest a fairly high success rate for people who go out with people who share the same faith.