Role of Religiosity in the Lives of the Low-Income Population: A Comprehensive Review of the Evidence. National Study of Youth and Religion Findings


Using multivariate regression analyses, and controlling for key background factors (including gender, age, race, region, parent marital status, parent education, and family income), the authors find that more religious teenagers (e.g., the devoteds and regulars) have more positive outcomes in the areas examined. Findings are consistent across socioeconomic groups. Key findings for the general youth population are described in Table 4-1. While Smith and Denton (2005) do not establish causality in their analyses, they highlight the striking consistency with which religiosity is positively associated with the wide range of outcomes examined.

Table 4-1.
Findings for General Youth Population about Religiosity and Youth Behavioral Outcomes
(Smith & Denton, 2005)
More Religious Teenagers Have More Positive Outcomes in These Areas:
  • Risk behaviors
  • Quality of family/adult relationships
  • Moral reasoning/behavior
  • Community participation
  • Media consumption
  • Sexual activity
  • Emotional well-being

Smith and Denton (2005) provide initial evidence about why religious teenagers have better life outcomes (see Table 4-2). Preliminary evidence suggests that quality of parent-child relationships, network closure, and religious practices could be important pathways for how religiosity influences youth outcomes. These pathways, however, are not formally tested in their statistical models.

Table 4-2.
Findings for General Youth Population about Potential Pathways Of Relationships between Religiosity and Youth Behavioral Outcomes
(Smith & Denton, 2005)
Areas in Which More Religious Teenagers Have More Positive Outcomes:
  • Parent-child relationships: Parents and other adults found to exert significant influence on youth religious experiences. Religious teenagers spend less time without parental supervision, are more likely to report they have fun with their parents and are more likely to believe that their parents understand and accept them.
  • Network Closure: Religious teenagers are more likely to experience network closure. Religious teenagers are more comfortable talking with adults other than parents and relatives and parents of religious teenagers are more likely to know these other adults.
  • Religious Practices: Among the religiously devoted, religious practices appear to play the most important role in teenagers faith lives. Few religious teenagers are spiritual seekers, but rather define their religiosity in terms of more conventional/institutional aspects of religion. In contrast, guilt (a non-institutional, personalized/moral dimension of religiosity) is found not to be a significant mediator.

Taken in combination, these findings highlight the need to understand whether it is the institutional or the indirect/personalized aspects of religion that more likely mediate religious effects in youths. This remains an open research question that requires further empirical testing.

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