Divorce hits red states harder than blue states, according to new research out of the University of Texas and University of Iowa.The research, published in the American Journal of Sociology, looks at religion and divorce and found the more conservative an area, the higher the divorce rate.
"I kind of fell for her at the end of my junior year and then it was pretty solid after that," said Travis Randall, talking about his wife Maria.The Randall's story is not unusual in Oklahoma. They met in high school and got married at 18 and 19 years old. It was a decision they made based on their religious beliefs.
"Instead of continuing living in sin as we put it, we decided to go ahead and get married," Maria said.
After three years of marriage they have two young boys. And the couple is being proactive: they take classes with the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative to keep from becoming a statistic.
"In Oklahoma our divorce rate is high, that's the truth," said Marriage Initiative Director Kendy Cox, "here in Oklahoma we believe in the institution of marriage. We chose to get married, we just don't know how to navigate our marriages."
The Initiative offers group educational classes for couples and individuals to learn better relationship skills, focusing on communication, problem-solving as a team and enhancing the fun and commitment within a relationship.
And while the latest research may go against conventional wisdom, because religious groups tend to believe in the commitment of marriage, researchers say other factors connect the dots.
"The longer an individual waits to get married and have children, the less likely they are to divorce," said researcher Dr. Jennifer Glass.
Those living in more religious areas tend to encourage abstinence-only, and limit access to contraceptives and abortions, she said.
"If you want to restrict sexual activity to marriage you're going to have a very hard time delaying marriage for the bulk of your co-religionists until their late 20s and early 30s which is when many people get married in the so-called bluer parts of the United States," Dr. Glass said.
Cox says The Marriage Initiative is trying to help delay marriage in Oklahoma for better results.
"We are teaching young people that it's important to finish their education, realize their goals before they chose to get married," she said.
But they also work with already-married couples like the Randall's, who have relationship goals of their own.
"To be a happy family is what my main focus is," Travis said.
"We are pretty happy together and I love him, and I just want to keep the love," said Maria.
Oklahoma ranks in the top five highest states for divorce rates, according to the Marriage Initiative. They also say the average age at marriage for a women in Oklahoma is 22, which is two and a half years younger than the national average.