Indicators of Child, Family, and Community Connections, Companion Volume of Related Papers. I. Introduction


This paper identifies some of the many studies that have linked the importance of religiosity to family functioning, child, youth, and family outcomes, and social networking. It also describes existing measures of family religiosity and spirituality in national surveys that can and have been used as indicators, as well as promising new measures from a recent survey. The paper outlines gaps and limitations in existing measures, and discusses important considerations for recommending new measures in this area. New measures are then recommended that are more inclusive of a wide range of religious expression and spirituality, and that portray religiosity within the context of families and their broader social context. Finally, the paper recommends additional analyses to shed light on the relationship of new measures to family outcomes, which may guide the future selection of measures to be developed into indicators.

Religiosity as an Indicator

American religious engagement has remained fairly constant for the past several decades, contrary to the claims that the processes of modernization and secularization would eventually reduce the interest in religious participation (Berger, 1999). The nature of religiosity has, however, changed over time, both as a function of the growing diversity of the religious communities in the United States, including the Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist communities (Eck, 2001), as well as in the range of personal activities that constitute religiosity among individuals.

Religiosity has received significant attention as an indicator because it has been found to have complex associations with a variety of positive family outcomes. These relationships between religiosity and well-being have been measured at several different levels, including the parental-level (e.g., marital satisfaction) the family-level (e.g., parenting styles, intrafamilial conflict), and the child-level (e.g., youth outcomes).

Marriage. Several studies have examined the effects of religiosity on various outcomes related to marriage, such as marital satisfaction, marital conflict, divorce, marital stability and commitment, and cohabitation/marital outcomes among children of religious parents. Religiosity as measured by religious service attendance has been linked to higher levels of marital satisfaction, marital stability, less marital conflict, lower risk of divorce, and the probability of marriage among young adults (Johnson et al, 2002; Call and Heaton, 1997; Thornton, 1992). Other studies have found less clear relationships between religiosity and marital satisfaction (Sullivan, 2001; Booth et al, 1995). In their meta-analysis of studies of family religiosity, Mahoney, Pargament, Tarakeshwar, & Swank (2001) concluded that the results on the association of global measures of religious involvement with marital satisfaction are mixed, but they found evidence that personal religiosity (indicated by engagement in multiple spiritual practices) and religious commitment were linked to marital satisfaction and commitment, controlling for various demographic factors.

Parenting. Studies have linked religiosity with parenting styles and level of parental involvement. A wide variety of studies have examined the relationship between specific religious orientations and styles of parental discipline, use of corporal punishment, and related issues, with mixed results, suggesting the difficulty of associating particular religious ideological beliefs with specific parenting practices (Mahoney, Pargament, Tarakeshwar, & Swank, 2001). However, parental religiosity has been linked to greater involvement, warmth and positivity in parent-child relationships (Pearce & Axinn, 1998; King, 2003) and with authoritative parenting (demanding and responsive parenting), and has been negatively associated with authoritarian parenting (highly demanding and directive but not responsive) (Gunnoe, et al, 1999).

Transmission of Religiosity. The transmission of religiosity itself within families has been the focus of research on socialization, and is of interest as a special case of family communication. Many factors influence the transmission of religious beliefs and practices to children and adolescents, with parents and family generally being viewed as the primary agent of religious socialization (King, Furrow, & Roth, 2002). Some researchers have found that parents transmit their religious beliefs, affiliation, and activities to their children, and this is more likely to happen when parent-child relationships are warm and parental communication about religion is clear (Bao et al, 1999; Benson et al, 1989). Myers (1996) found that three factors aid in the familial transfer of religiosity: parental religiosity, quality of the family relationship, and traditional family structure. Of these factors, parental religiosity was the biggest determinant of offspring's religiosity.

Other researchers have added insights into the process of religious transmission. For example, Regenerus, Smith, & Smith (2004) find that parental religiosity is more strongly related to adolescents' religious participation (a behavior over which parents can maintain a certain level of control) than it is to their sense of the importance of religion. Erickson (1992) found that parents' religious influence and activity had an indirect influence on adolescents' religious commitments by directing them to other social influencers (peers, school, faith community) that have increasing salience during adolescence. Similarly, Martin, White, and Perlman's (2003) analyses found that parents have an effect on adolescent religiosity through peer influence.

Youth Outcomes. The research literature has linked both parental and youth religiosity with youth outcomes. Researcher Christian Smith (2003) identifies nine key factors that provide the mechanisms through which religion is linked to positive outcomes for adolescents. They include moral directives, spiritual experiences, role models, community and leadership skills, coping skills, cultural knowledge and experiences, social ties, network closure, and extra-community links. These factors can be grouped into three broad areas of influence: moral order, learned competencies, and social and organizational ties. In other research literature, parental involvement in religious activities was linked to youth outcomes across several domains, including avoidance of early sexual activity and delinquent behaviors, reduced incidence of depression, increased cognitive and social competence and social responsibility (Bridges and Moore, 2002; Brody, et al., 1996; Gunnoe, et al., 1999; Miller, et al., 1997; Sherkat and Ellison, 1999; Moore et al, 2004; Amoateng and Bahr, 1986; Hundleby and Mercer, 1987).

Religiosity among youth themselves has also been linked to youth behaviors, mental health, and social connections. For example, several studies have linked religiosity and the development of morality and altruism (Kedem and Cohen, 1987; Donahue and Benson, 1995), although the mechanism, whether the inclusion of community service activities in religious youth group participation, or religious service attendance, or the social networks to which youth are exposed through religious participation, is debated (King and Furrow 2001). Related research from Search Institute has found that religious contexts can provide resources to help youth develop and mediate the influence of religion (Wagener, Furrow, King, Leffert, & Benson, 2003). They find, for example, that the frequency of religious attendance seems to enhance positive engagement with adults outside of one's own family (Scales, Benson, & Mannes, 2003). Markstrom (1999) found that three different measures of religious involvement - frequency of service attendance, participation in a Bible study group, and participation in a church youth group - were all positively associated with school-related self esteem in a sample of 11th grade students. Church attendance also was related to the ego strength of the will (i.e., the awareness of free will and the ability to exert self-control). Similarly, Wright, Frost, and Wisecarver (1993) found that adolescents who attended church more frequently, and those who viewed religion as providing meaning to their lives, had lower depression scores than did less religious adolescents. Additional work focused on links between youth religiosity and lower levels of negative behaviors, such as drug use, smoking, drinking, gambling, and risky sexual activity (Evans, et al., 1996; Donahue & Benson, 1995; Brownfield & Sorenson, 1991; Jang & Johnson, 2001).

Fostering Pro-social Behavior. Other research has focused on how religious congregations can foster connections between families and the broader society, as in the examples cited for youth above, as well as provide opportunities for families to participate in civic life and volunteerism that may not otherwise be readily available (Becker & Dinhgra, 2001). For example, Wuthnow (2002) found that membership in a religious congregation and holding a congregational leadership position were associated with having friendships which bridge social status, while frequency of religious attendance was largely unrelated. Other research by the Independent Sector on volunteering and giving in the United States has found that religious households with volunteers give substantially more to charity per year ($2,704) than secular households with volunteers ($1,000) and religious households without volunteers ($1,410) (Toppe, et al., 2002). Additional analyses from the National Educational Longitudinal Survey of 1988 (NELS) suggest that adolescents who attend religious services are more likely to volunteer than those who never attend religious services (Zaff, et al., 2001).

Parental, family, and youth religiosity, then, has been linked by substantial research to many of the domains of the social context of families, including family functioning, civic engagement, youth outcomes, and social connections.

View full report


"papers.pdf" (pdf, 639.68Kb)

Note: Documents in PDF format require the Adobe Acrobat Reader®. If you experience problems with PDF documents, please download the latest version of the Reader®