An Investigation into Marriage and Family Relations Among the Plymouth Brethren (Exclusive Brethren) in Australia



An Investigation into Marriage and Family Relations Among the Plymouth Brethren (Exclusive Brethren) in Australia


Gary D Bouma, BA, BD, MA, PhD

Professor of Sociology

UNESCO Chair in Interreligious and Intercultural Relations – Asia Pacific

Monash University


18 May 2006


 An Investigation into Marriage and Family Relations Among the Plymouth Brethren (Exclusive Brethren) in Australia


Gary D Bouma, BA, BD, MA, PhD,

Professor of Sociology

UNESCO Chair in Interreligious and Intercultural Relations – Asia Pacific

Monash University



The Plymouth Brethren (Exclusive Brethren) are a small Christian religious denomination with origins in the early 19th Century. They are committed to a simple way of life that emphasises the acceptance of a plain reading of the scriptures as a guide to life, reject the need for clergy, are strongly focussed on family life and strictly control their relationships with the world. This paper examines the pattern of marriage and family relations found among the Plymouth Brethren (Exclusive Brethren) inAustralia and compares it with the general population and with selected other Christian denominations.

In response to some queries about their family life, the Plymouth Brethren (Exclusive Brethren) surveyed their members to ascertain the current situation. These data represent the entire membership as each member and family is included. Unlike many other Christian denominations The Plymouth Brethren (Exclusive Brethren) do not have marginal adherents or those who participate on an irregular basis. It will be argued that this very fact is part of the  ‘plausibility structure’ of the group and that it has the additional effect of promoting family stability.

The Data

The survey revealed that there are a total of 2,970 households of members of the Plymouth Brethren (Exclusive Brethren). Table One breaks these down into those household comprised of married couples with or without children, those comprised of widows and widowers with or without children and those with one previously married person with or without children. Children are accounted for separately.

Total Marriages 2,970 100.0%
Married couples 2,602    87.6%
Widow/ers    302    10.2%
Divorced/Separated      66      2.2 %

Table One: Marriage Status of Plymouth Brethren (Exclusive Brethren) in March 2006.


These data reveal a high level of marriage and a focus on family life. However, in order to demonstrate the truth of this assessment, the Plymouth Brethren (Exclusive Brethren) need to be compared with data available from other groups. The Census provides helpful information, but the Brethren data need to be put in a form that makes the comparison possible. The census data are not household data but information about persons. Fortunately, given the completeness of the data provided by the survey of Plymouth Brethren (Exclusive Brethren) it is possible to do this. The data provided include all Plymouth Brethren (Exclusive Brethren) and therefore are as complete as the census. To make the data comparable the household data need to be converted to personal data and the number of unmarried persons 15 years and over need to be added. There are no married, widowed or divorced Plymouth Brethren (Exclusive Brethren) under the age of 15. The total number of unmarried is 6,900. In consultation with the Plymouth Brethren (Exclusive Brethren) the percentage of children/never married who are 15 years of age and older is estimated at 40%.

Total Persons 12,472 Persons 15 years old and older   8,332 100.0%
Married couples   2,602 Married persons   5,204    62.5%
Widow/ers      302      302      3.6%
Divorced/Separated        66        66      0.8%
Children / Never Married   6,900 Children / never married 15 years old and over   2,760    33.1%

Table Two: Reconstruction of Survey Data to ‘individual person data’ to make comparisons possible.


This reconstruction reveals a comparatively youthful religious group. Assuming that most of the ‘never married’ are children it means that each family unit has on average 2.65 children. This is about twice the national average for Australian families. Again the evidence points to a strongly family focussed group.

The data presented in Table Three make this assessment even clearer. When the Plymouth Brethren (Exclusive Brethren) data are compared with the 2001 census report for all Brethren it becomes clear that the Plymouth Brethren (Exclusive Brethren) demonstrate even more family stability than other Brethren. Moreover they exhibit much greater family stability than the Australian population and substantially more than two other Christian groups inAustralia.


Plymouth Brethren (Exclusive Brethren) Brethren in the Census Total Population Churches of Christ Anglicans Mormons
Married  persons  62.5% 63.5% 51.4% 61.0% 53.9% 50.9%
Widow/ers    3.6%   6.6%   6.2%   8.9%   8.5%   3.8%
Divorced/Separated persons    0.8%   3.8% 10.8%   8.4% 12.0% 11.9%
Children / Never Married  33.1% 26.1% 31.6% 21.6% 25.7% 33.4%

Table Three: Comparison of Plymouth Brethren (Exclusive Brethren) with other Brethren, the Total Population, and selected Christian denominations.


Data from the March 2006 Plymouth Brethren (Exclusive Brethren) Survey and from Phillip Hughes (Ed) Australia’s Religious Communities. Melbourne: CRA 2004.

The Plymouth Brethren (Exclusive Brethren) are distinctive among religious groups in that they have more children than many other religious groups but at a slightly greater rate than the national average.

The lower percentage of married and the higher percentage of those never married is a reflection of the fact that the Brethren have a comparatively youthful age profile. The census data confirm this. Compare the age profiles of The Brethren with the Churches of Christ in the following graphs taken from Phillip Hughes 2004.

Moreover, the comparison clearly demonstrates the very low rate of divorce among Plymouth Brethren (Exclusive Brethren). This family oriented group has an outstandingly low rate of divorced and separated persons. The percentage of Plymouth Brethren (Exclusive Brethren) who are divorced or separated is minuscule when compared with other groups and the national average.

At a time when the mainstream Protestant churches have lost two generations of children the Plymouth Brethren (Exclusive Brethren) tend to retain their children in active participation. The Plymouth Brethren (Exclusive Brethren) Survey discovered that of 10,222 children born into Plymouth Brethren (Exclusive Brethren) families, 9,789 or 95.8% continue in fellowship. A total number of 279 children have been involved in families that suffered divorce or separation. Of these 251 or 89.9% continue in fellowship. These data again show the high rate of retention among Plymouth Brethren (Exclusive Brethren).

Finally, the stability of family and marriage life is reflected in the fact that the group loses few members and basically gains members through birth and the ‘restoration’ of members that had been excommunicated. The Plymouth Brethren (Exclusive Brethren), like most Christian groups excommunicates members as a last resort. They do this in accordance with their interpretation of the bible. That excommunication is rare and in fact results in restoration in many cases is shown in the following data. In 2004 and 2005 a total of 43 members (0.17% per year) were excommunicated while in the same period 20 were ‘restored’.

Most of these findings can be interpreted to describe a highly integrated and fully functioning religious community. It maintains belief through close association with others who share their beliefs. It structures the lives of families around activities of the community providing social life and support for distinctive beliefs. These social arrangements serve also to bolster family life and marital commitment.



26 thoughts on “An Investigation into Marriage and Family Relations Among the Plymouth Brethren (Exclusive Brethren) in Australia”

  1. one ques. says:

    quick question that probly every PBCC member is wondering… who is the couple shown?!?! jus’ curious…. 🙂

    1. Ella says:

      That would be an invasion of privacy.. 🙂
      They are well known, amongst the PBCC.
      You may have to do some searching.. 🙂

  2. Åke says:

    This is very good results, shows what is worth going in for.
    It was recent in news here in Sweden that divorce rates was around 50%. I am thinking that this is of married person, not as a percent of total person. So the rate showing here(0,8%) is very low for you brethren. Who I have known now for nearly 40 year. However, the death rate percentage here in Sweden remains worryingly high.

  3. jack says:

    I thoroughly agree with jo.
    Seperation is really the true key to our closeness and binding moral values.

  4. thankful member says:

    Hello and thank you to all who have contributed to this report. I just noticed this publication and would love to offer my full support. I am a member of the PBCC in the United States.
    My mother and father divorced in the months just prior to me being born, as he wanted to go another way apart from the way of the brethren. My mother chose to stay, as she had questioned how she could raise her children a life separated from the joy and care in our fellowship.
    Now almost 20 years old, I look back in much appreciation of the decision she made. The brethren have been a rock to me, and every day I wake up thankful that I have been favored to know and grow up this way of life amongst such friends and my loving family.
    To anyone who reads this, I hope it can help give some insight into why we will continue to fight for the public and provide support to charity, why we will, with no regrets, spread the name of Jesus. It’s because it’s the life we live, because it’s what we believe; ‘the words of the Lord Jesus, that he himself said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.’(Acts 20 v 35)
    Indeed I have been the recipient of much undeserved giving and unwarranted love, and it’s the responsibility I feel I have to share to others as has been shared so freely to me.

  5. Ranonymous says:

    I am a 20 yr old Australian PBCC born amonst them! I went to a Public School until Year 6 (last year of Primary). I have memories of children within my class who’s parents were seperated and fighting over the children etc…etc…. I thought, what a sad life! I believe similar circumstances are common occurence in todays world. Many children, not only brethren, who live a life with both parents in Christianity, have a happy life! The secret to the smile behind a genuine christian is that Jesus is everything to them because they know Jesus has done everything for them. I recall seeing a sign which affected me which is still there on the main highway between Sydney and Melbourne, which says ‘Do you know Jesus? He knows all about you! God Bless every true believer!

  6. Sara says:

    Wow, impressive!

  7. Tessa says:

    Marriage is one of the first things God brought out for man & woman. It is in the Bible even before the devil brought in sin.

    So that is why it is one of the main points of attack from the devil.
    What is true will always be attacked.

    I think the above written report is an evidence to the diffrence between Gods thoughts for marriage and what the devil has done in bringing so much confusion into marriage. More and more he is not only confusing marriage but also trying to divert man from marriage. He is encouraging relationships between man & woman without marriage….

    But I think, man as going against Gods original plan will not be able to prosper. And that is also made clear in this report.
    Thanks for this report!

  8. Anonymous says:

    Awesome Stats

  9. Peter says:

    It might be my browser – but I can’t see the table completely- would be nice to see the full comparison.

    A few other statistics on this group might be interesting too – like number with a criminal record, bankruptcies, underage pregnancies, drug addictions. We might not all be able to belong to them, but we would probably all like the stability of the lifestyle.

    1. Mary says:

      Hello Peter
      If you open the link there to THE-BRETHREN-Familes-Paper.pdf it shows all the statistics.
      Good luck!

    2. Mark says:

      If you want to see the full table, download the PDF from the link at the bottom of the article above. I think you will find, that if it was researched, the other items you mention would be statistically negligible!

    3. John says:

      Peter, that would be interesting, but it would be difficult to assess, since the incidence of such statistics are so few – might be 1 in a thousand or less. It would be difficult to find a statistically relevant cohort to extrapolate the findings to the entire group. What can be said, though, is that in the few cases where such situations do occur, there is tremendous support available within the community to help.

    4. Peter says:

      Thank you all for the IT help, and for the other comments.

      I am not surprised to hear that the statistics on some of the other areas are negligible. If all, or even most, or even just a few more, children in the world could grow up in families where there were stable marital situations, improvement in these other areas would be a given.

      It would reduce the enormous financial and social costs that even the best and most advanced Governments are battling with.

      That’s why I said we would probably all like the stability of the lifestyle; may I add that most governments are (with a sense of futility) aiming at the stability of this kind of community social model, but don’t realise that stable marriages are key to it.

  10. Nana says:

    I was born into the PBCC and my parents taught me that marriage is of the Lord, it’s a Divine instution. I’ve been married for over 32 years now and have never, never had to worry or have suspicions about my husband which can so quickly undermine a relationship. He values marriage too although he oftens gets the rough end! Forgiveness, security, safety through our Lord Jesus Christ. I need to value it more.

  11. Mary says:

    As Lorell says, what an article… certainly dispels a few myths. There can be absolutely no reason to doubt that people stay with this group because they are HAPPY there! I’m so glad to see this article, thank you, PBCC.

  12. Tim says:

    This report demonstrates that Christianity -when practiced- is what holds families together. The whole western world is suffering from 5 decades of growing societal permissiveness and a trend in legislation that despises Christian values. The result of this is now seen in the terrible family breakdown statistics that are like a cancer gnawing at the heart of western society. Really great to see that this can be reversed by following the Bible.

    1. Mitch says:

      You’re absolutely right, Tim. This report is particularly significant in the light of the UK Government’s current attempt to water down and “redefine” marriage from it’s scriptural definition.

      It’s really painful to see persons justifying ignoring God’s rights in the name of “equality” and “modernisation” but articles like this one are so encouraging!

    2. WS says:

      One thing which is interetsing is David Cameron’s speech in response to the riots which broke out in 2011 – see
      He makes it quite clear that social breakdown was a result of moral breakdown particularly in relation to marriage.

  13. Stay-at-home-Mum says:

    Great to have these statistics!

    1. ? says:

      Sounds like you are pround of being a ‘stay-at-home-mum’?

  14. Lorell says:

    What an article
    Those statistics alone show that the PBCC are doing something for the community. The article above sets out very clearly that the people that are included obviously enjoy being where they are otherwise they would not be there.
    I am glad to see that there is actually some people who try to keep together as a family unit. The sad thing is that then they get accused of being Exclusive – just because their name was once Exclusive Brethren.

    1. Ed says:

      Hello Lorell,

      You are dead right! Why would we ever think to leave the safety, security and peace of upholding a path of true seperation down here that is leading onto our eternal glory? We expect this criticism. We live in a jealous world and the devil is going about like a roaring lion. Why? Because he knows his time is very very short. Interestingly the stronger he attacks, the stronger your faith and links with Christ become. Where in the world would you find another organisation of people that hold together like this?

  15. John says:

    Thank you so much for this. “Truth will ultimately prevail where there is pain taken to bring it to light.” – George Washington

    1. Katelyn says:

      This study and website confirms everything I’ve have come to believe about the PBCC. I have many dealings with members of your Church and feel a very close affinity with your teachings and lifestyle. I truly wish that your Church was more accepting of new community members as I am struggling to find a group that upholds family values and a Godly lifestyle as honestly and voraciously as the PBCC.

    2. Jo says:

      To Katelyn
      We would LOVE to have you as a member of our church and we are very accepting of new community members. All we ask is that you uphold our beliefs and seperation. Although seperation from the world may seem difficult, it is really what holds us together and helps uphold the family values and Godly lifestyle that you are in search of. And it is so worth it!! Wherever you find your place, God Bless you!!

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