Indicators of Child, Family, and Community Connections, Companion Volume of Related Papers. II. Existing Measures


Measures of religiosity include formal religious service attendance, personal practices, beliefs and views on the importance of religion, religious identity, and family communication or community connections. Existing national surveys include some items on religiosity and spirituality, however there is significant overlap in the questions asked in these surveys and the aspects of religiosity that they tend to capture.

Service attendance. Questions about the frequency of attendance at religious services are asked in the National Survey of America's Families (NSAF), the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth -1997 (NLSY97), the National Educational Longitudinal Survey of 1988 (NELS), the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), Monitoring the Future, the National Survey of Children (NSC), the National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH), and the Independent Sector Survey of Giving and Volunteering, among others.

A good example of a measure of parental attendance can be found in the NSAF, which asks parents of children ages 0 to 17, " In the past 12 months, how often have you attended a religious service?" Data from the NSAF show that among children under 18, 40 percent have a parent who attends religious services once a week or more, 19 percent have a parent who attends a few times a month, and 41 percent have a parent who never attends or only attends a few times a year (Moore, et al., 2002). An indicator based upon this NSAF measure was created for the chartbook for this project. Similar results have been found in analyses of the NLSY97 (Moore, et al., 2002). On the NLSY97, parents were asked, "In the past 12 months, how often have you attended worship service (like church or synagogue service or mass)?"

A measure of frequency of family religious attendance as well as other family religious activities can be found in the NLSY. Adolescents aged 12 to 14 are asked, "In a typical week, how many days from 0 to 7 do you do something religious as a family such as go to church, pray or read the scriptures together?" Longitudinal analyses from the first three waves of the NLSY97 have found that this measure of family religiosity predicts positive adolescents outcomes. This measure was also developed into an indicator for the chartbook for this project.

Measures of youth religious service attendance (without respect to whether or not attendance is with their families) can be found in several data sets. The NELS asked 10th and 12th graders in 1990 and 1992, respectively, "In the past year, about how often have you attended religious services?" Analyses of NELS showed that almost half (46%) of high school students attended religious services at least weekly, over a third (36%) attended occasionally, and the rest (18%) did not attend at all (Moore, et al, 2002).

Importance of religion. Less widespread are measures of the importance of religion in one's life. Questions on importance are found in several surveys, including Monitoring the Future (MTF), Add Health, and the NSC. For instance, MTF asks high school seniors, "How important is religion in your life?" In 2002, thirty-three percent of twelfth graders said that religion was very important in their lives, 30% said that religion was pretty important, 23% said that religion had little importance in their lives, and 14% said that religion was not important to them. The NELS asks questions about the importance of friends participating in religious services, and the importance of one's school or college providing a religious environment.

Data on adults (not necessarily parents) from a 2001 Gallup Poll found that 55% said religion was "very important" in their lives, while another 30% reported it as "fairly important" (Gallup Organization, 2002). The NSLY also contains a measure for parental beliefs about the importance of religion for having desired values.

Family religious and spiritual practices. In several national studies of Protestant Christians, Search Institute measured a number of basic dimensions of family religious practices or socialization (Benson & Eklin, 1990; Benson, Roehlkepartain, & Andress, 1995). These measures included talking to mother or father about faith, participating in family devotions, prayer, or reading of sacred texts, and engaging in family projects together to serve others. The NLSY contains measures about prayer among parents. Parents report on the frequency of prayer and how often they ask God for help with decisions.

Religious identity. NELS: 88 has a measure on the degree to which twelfth graders in 1992 identified themselves as religious (i.e., "Do you think of yourself as a religious person?"). Thirteen percent considered themselves to be very religious, 61% said that they are somewhat religious, and 26% said that they were not at all religious (Moore, et al., 2002). A measure of religious affiliation can be found in NELS:88 as well as in Monitoring the Future. The Monitoring the Future Survey finds that, in 2000, most (83.7%) high school seniors reported affiliation with a religious denomination or tradition (Bachman, et al, 2000).

Recent Expansion of Available Measures

While we have identified numerous measures in several surveys on religiosity, none of those mentioned above contain detailed information on religious activities, beliefs, and attitudes across the spectrum of religious traditions. However, a recently fielded survey by researchers at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, titled the National Study of Youth and Religion (NSYR), represents a comprehensive effort to assess all of these facets of religiosity for youth and their parents in meticulous depth.(1)

Data from the NSYR are expected to be available for analysis in the fall of 2004, and it will be a rich source of new data on the religiosity of youth and their parents. Since it also contains outcome measures and attitudinal measures, including those about marriage, sex, substance use, schooling, etc., it will be possible to relate religiosity to outcomes through cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses.

The National Study of Youth and Religion is designed to "research the shape and influence of religion and spirituality in the lives of American adolescents; to identify effective practices in the religious, moral, and social formation of the lives of youth; to describe the extent and perceived effectiveness of the programs and opportunities that religious communities are offering to their youth; and to foster an informed national discussion about the influence of religion in youth's lives, in order to encourage sustained reflection about and rethinking of our cultural and institutional practices with regard to youth and religion." Data from the NSYR were collected in 2002 via telephone survey from 3,200 American youth, ages 13 to 17, and parents, and a sub-sample of 250 youth were administered personal, in-depth interviews in 2003. The NSYR also will include a longitudinal component, following up with the original subjects in 2005, three years after the first wave of the survey. The NSYR contains many unique measures that are not found in other surveys, and some examples that are germane to this project on the social context of families are described below.

Specific religious practices across religions and spiritual practices. Among the broad areas of religiosity assessed by the survey are extensively detailed questions on religious affiliation, as well as detailed follow-ups tailored to the subject's religious affiliation pertaining to the practice of Christianity (e.g., having been baptized), Hinduism (e.g.,

observing cleansing rituals before prayer), Islam (e.g., fasting during Ramadan), Judaism (e.g., observing the Sabbath), and Buddhism (e.g., the presence of religious altars in the home). In addition, the survey asks about spiritual practices such as meditation, burning candles, listening to religious radio, CDs or tapes, and whether the youth prays alone or with parents other than at mealtimes or religious services.

Multiple affiliations. The NSYR contains items on religious service attendance for primary, secondary, and tertiary affiliations, and asks the extent that respondents may be involved in attending religious services for more than one religion or denomination (e.g., "Do you attend religious services at any OTHER religious congregation?" The list of affiliations includes 67 possible responses.

Religious development over the life course. Several questions are asked about the extent to which individuals were raised in a particular religion and their religious development. Additional life course questions regarding attendance at religious services and reflections on being religious/non-religious (e.g., "Since you were 6 years old, were there any years when you were NOT regularly attending religious services, and if so, how many?" "When you are 25, do you think you will be attending religious services?") are also included.

The nature and influence of religious beliefs. The NSYR explores specific aspects of religious beliefs (e.g., life after death, existence of angels, miracles, beliefs about God, moving spiritual experiences, personal commitment to live one's life for God), as well as whether the individual is or is not "spiritual but not religious." In addition, the survey explores the extent to which these beliefs shape the youth's life and major life decisions.

Similarity of religious beliefs to one's parents and one's partner. The questionnaire explores whether youth feel that their beliefs are similar to their mother's and father's. Among those youth who have dated, questions are asked about whether their partner's religious beliefs were different from their own.

Religious communication in the home. An important question to the study of religiosity in the home is the frequency with which the family talks about God, the Scriptures, prayer, or other religious or spiritual topics.

Freedom to express religious beliefs in school. Several questions address behaviors and attitudes about the expression of religion in school.

Learning more about religion, and attitudes about one's house of worship. The survey asks about one's interest in learning more about religion, and the role of one's house of worship and religious groups in facilitating one's beliefs. In addition, the survey explores attitudes about the house of worship and the services attended there.

Involvement in youth groups or activities, clubs, or camps sponsored by a religious organization. Youth group membership is an important expression of religious affiliation among youth that is captured in the NSYR. In addition, the survey asks about donations to, and participation in volunteer and other activities with religious organizations, including participation in religious camps, retreats, choirs, etc.

Religious rites of passage. The survey asks about the youth's participation in rites of passage across various religions.


(1) The National Study of Youth and Religion instrument can be found at:

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