Role of Religiosity in the Lives of the Low-Income Population: A Comprehensive Review of the Evidence. Common Themes across Outcomes


  • Although scholars hypothesize that religion can buffer the effects of poverty across outcome measures, few empirical studies draw on theories or formulate conceptual models that hypothesize why there may be differences in the effect of religiosity for low-income families compared with higher-income families. One exception is the studies conducted on family-related outcomes in marriage, parenting, and youths. For example, some researchers propose that religious denomination-specific views on marriage before parenthood may deter single low-income mothers from participation in religious institutions, which could lead to less marriage.
  • Qualitative research, primarily conducted in the area of health but also in other outcomes, points to potential pathways wherein religiosity can positively or negatively affect healthy behaviors and service utilization. These studies can help to formulate conceptual models specific to low-income populations that can guide further research in the field and help practitioners develop comprehensive logic models.
  • Religious denomination/affiliation does not appear to have a direct association with any of the six behavioral outcomes at the individual level. In contrast, religious affiliation can influence outcomes when there are differences in affiliation within families. For example, religious denomination appears to have an effect when husbands and wives have different affiliations andstrong religious beliefs.
  • Single-item measures of frequent church attendance generally show a positive effect on outcomes across program areas. Some studies do not show any significant effects of church attendance, and a few studies find negative effects. Whether or not a study finds an effect can vary depending on what other explanatory and relevant contextual factors are examined.
  • The few studies that include secular measures of participation in activities and beliefs alongside measures of participation in activities at religious institutions find that both are important. For example, in the areas of marriage and youths, engaging in both types of activities increases marital quality and youth development outcomes.
  • Although national surveys highlight stronger individual religious beliefs (nonorganizational religiosity) among the poor population and less participation in religious institutions (organizational religiosity) than higher-income groups, results from multivariate models do not find consistent effects for these measures of religiosity across outcomes. Preliminary results show that both types of religiosity measures are statistically significant in parenting, youth, marriage and health, but the direction of the effect can vary across the specific outcomes measured within each area. Both types of religiosity are not consistently included in models, and outcome measurement varies widely, making it difficult to draw firm conclusions.
  • Of the six health and substance abuse intervention studies targeting low-income populations that include a measure of religiosity, five studies do not find a significant effect of religiosity on changes in cancer screening or smoking cessation enrollment over time. One study finds that greater religiosity is associated with drug treatment seeking behavior. It is important to note that these studies control for religiosity at baseline and do not examine changes in religiosity. In addition, many studies are conducted in rural areas where there is little variation in religiosity.
  • For youths, parenting and marriage, studies generally examine gender differences in the effect of religiosity on outcomes. The findings indicate some differences between how religiosity affects marriage, parenting and relationship outcomes for adult men and women, and differences in developmental outcomes for girls and boys.
  • In areas such as health, youth, parenting and marriage, the research indicates that there are both direct and indirect effects of religiosity that operate through social networks and social support.

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