Case study

Mixed religion relationships in Northern Ireland: What are the implications?

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Author: Kareena McAloney, University of York

Date: 15 April 2013

Type of case study: Research

About the research

Both religion and marriage have been associated with health and well-being, but little is known about how differences in religious faith within partnership relations influence health and well-being. In Northern Ireland religious segregation between Catholics and Protestants is pervasive, and there is a low prevalence of mixed marriages. This project examines the prevalence of mixed-religion relationships in Northern Ireland, and explores associations with physical and mental health.

In general, the research findings suggest that less than 10 per cent of relationships are between partners of different religions, which is associated with poorer psychological health. Mixing religions in intimate relationships is a particularly noteworthy form of intergroup contact, and it is important to be aware of the implications of such contact for the health and well-being of individuals in order that they can be better supported.

About the data

This research draws on data from the Understanding Society study,also known as the United Kingdom Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS), a successor to the British Household Panel Survey which began in 2009. The purpose of Understanding Society is to understand social and economic change in Britain at the household and individual levels.

The study has a strong emphasis on domains of family and social ties, work, financial resources, and health. There are four sample components: the General Population component, the Innovation Panel, a boost sample of ethnic minority group members, and participants in the former British Household Panel Survey (BHPS). The researcher has re-examined data from Wave 1, 2009 – 2010 (2nd edition), which includes the General Population component and the ethnic minority boost sample. The Innovation Panel data are held separately under SN 6849. In addition, there are a number of lower geographical datasets available under Special Licence conditions providing Local Authority District (LAD), Output Area Codes (OACs), Local Education Authorities (LEAs), Output Areas (OAs), and other geographical level information.


This paper analysed secondary data from the Northern Ireland cohort within the first wave of Understanding Society, 2009 – 2010 (2nd edition). Analyses include bivariate descriptive statistics, and estimation of linear regression models which include mixed-religion relationship status as an independent variable, and mental and physical health as a dependent variable.

Publications and outputs

McAloney, K. (2013) ''Mixed' religion relationships and well-being in Northern Ireland' Journal of Religion and Health, pp. 1-10.. doi: 10.1007/s10943-013-9701-6

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