1. The study was conducted by the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute which has deep and historic ties to Planned Parenthood. There is every incentive, then, for this study to find that almost everyone is having sex and is in need of contraceptives (or abortion rights).
2. The survey's methodology is flawed. The study intentionally over-represented African Americans and Hispanics. In the 2010 census whites made up 63.7% of the U.S. population, blacks 12.2%, and Hispanics 16.3%. Yet, in the study cited by Relevant (and others) whites account for 50% of the sample, blacks 20%, and Hispanics 22%. Given the fact that 24% of white children are in single-parent homes, compared to 67% for African American children and 40% for Hispanic children, the disproportionate sampling in the National Survey likely has the effect of skewing the numbers toward indicating greater promiscuity.
3. We should also take into account the large number of persons who refused to take the survey. According to page 10 of this report over 100,000 phone calls were made to get a sample size of 1800. At least 12-15% of those “missed” surveys were refusals. Could it be that many sexually inactive young singles were uninterested in taking a survey almost entirely about contraceptives?
Kevin concludes as follows:
Statistics like the 80% need to be taken with a generous grain of salt. I don’t doubt that fornication is a big problem, bigger than most pastors realize. But when figures like 80% get thrown around we are led to believe (or flat out told) that Christians behave no different than anyone else.
And yet, consider two points.
1. Even using the numbers quoted in Relevant, it’s still the case that the percentage of celibate singles is almost twice as high for evangelicals and for everyone else. But that will not make headlines.
2. The National Survey, like most surveys, simply measures those who self-identify as evangelical. As you can see here, Question 80 of the study asks, “Do you consider yourself to be a born-again Christian, evangelical, or fundamentalist?” Only 476 of the 1800 said yes. Of these 476 unmarried 18-29 year-olds, apparently 80% have had sex before (although only 42% say they are currently in a sexual relationship). But we do not know what sort of “evangelicals” these 476 persons are. The next question in the survey (Q81) asks about frequency in attending religious services. It would be interesting to see the percentages of fornication among weekly churchgoers. Still too high no doubt, but probably much lower. As Bradley Wright argues in his book, there is a strong correlation between church attendance and more faithful sexual behavior across the board (Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites, 138-142). There are lots of nominal Christians in this country whose commitment consists of putting on a religious label for a survey. Looking at what people actually believe and examining their actual engagement with the church is a better mechanism for making claims about the rights and wrongs of Christian behavior.
Here’s the bottom line: don’t believe every stat you read. They are sometimes false and often kind of true, but the real shocking figures are rarely quite as much as meets the eye.