London, June 21 : People go to church 'to go forth and multiply', says a leading researcher, who found that churchgoers feel they would find both faithful and loyal partners within the vicinity of the place of worship.
After analysing questionnaire responses from more than 22,000 mainly Christian Americans, Jason Weeden at Arizona State University, Tempe, and his colleagues found that factors related to sex showed the strongest links to churchgoing.
These include marital status, number of children, preferred family size, and moral views on topics like cheating and contraception. Other variables that have often been linked to religiosity such as age, gender or conscientiousness failed to explain church attendance, after controlling for differences in sexual and family values.
Weeden suggests that looking for partners within a religious community reduces the risk of adultery in couples adopting a monogamous, high-fertility mating strategy as there is a large fitness cost if the marriage fails: men risk losing substantial investment if the woman cheats; women risk being abandoned with a large brood and fewer resources to care for them.
"Religious groups make this deal more plausible to both partners. You surround yourself with people who strongly believe that one of the worst things you can do is to abandon your spouse or sleep around," New Scientist quoted Weeden, as saying.
For Weeden, mating preferences are at the very core of religious choices - and can even drive them.
"Hardly any of the students in our study were regular churchgoers, but those who saw themselves as having many kids in stable marriages were the ones who were anticipating regular church attendance in the future," he said.
The study is published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior.