Role of Religiosity in the Lives of the Low-Income Population: A Comprehensive Review of the Evidence. Next Steps


The current state of religiosity research on the low-income population raises more questions than it provides specific answers to guide further program development. Fortunately, studies are underway within each of the topical areas that will help to address these gaps. In addition, while this literature is still emerging, it does provide enough of a basis to help guide the next steps for research.

A number of steps can be taken to advance the religiosity literature to answer basic questions about the effect of religiosity on behavioral outcomes in the low-income population. Some of the following suggestions are more immediate to help fill gaps in the knowledge base, whereas others are longer-term and will require new rounds of data collection.

Suggestions for research in the shorter-term:

  • Define common measures of organizational and individual religiosity and spirituality across disciplines to help guide research and evaluation efforts.
  • Analyze existing secondary data sets to systematically study the differential effects of religiosity by income groups across outcomes of current policy interest. Explore whether definitions of income vary the results.
  • Consistently test for secular and religious-specific mediating pathways and for differences across sociodemographic characteristics and different resource levels.
  • Use multiple estimation methods to conduct sensitivity analysis of the results. Such analyses can help identify appropriate rigorous methods in this area.
  • Use existing studies and samples to interview low-income participants (and higher-income participants if they are available) to help inform the development of pathways, new measures, and religious-specific outcomes.
  • Visit the religious institutions of a subset of respondents and conduct a content analysis of religious activities, such as sermons, social networks, and available activities.
  • Commission interdisciplinary conceptual papers that review the potential pathways of the effect of religiosity on outcomes in the low-income population and develop hypotheses about why these effects would differ by income.
  • Include measures of religiosity in existing program evaluations of faith-based or church-based programs to examine their impact on religiosity and how religiosity affects outcomes.

Suggestions for research in the longer-term:

  • Consider adding basic measures of religion to the Decennial Census.
  • Commission new surveys that collect longitudinal extensive measures of religiosity, income, and behavioral outcomes for households. Oversample individuals who are non-Christian to develop adequate sample sizes.
  • Survey religious institutions about practices and activities that can be linked to individuals participating in panel surveys.
  • Collect biomarkers, similar to the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) data set.


[1]   Using longitudinal data does not completely rule out the potential for reverse causality because an anticipated future outcome, such as marriage, could also influence baseline church attendance; however, there is general agreement that analyzing longitudinal panel data offers a significant improvement over cross-sectional data.

[2]    Authoritative parenting has been found to be most effective for positive child development across several ethnic subcultures within the United States. It is characterized by high levels of parents demanding age-appropriate behaviors, while fostering child autonomy in a warm and supportive environment. In contrast, authoritarian parenting styles emphasize child obedience without questioning, in the context of low parental support.

[3]   Kelley et al. (1992) characterize parenting styles that rarely consider child needs/wants and exact unyielding obedience to parental authority (e.g., authoritarian parenting) as parent-oriented. In contrast, they describe more child-responsive parenting styles (e.g., authoritative parenting) as child-oriented.

[4]   The highest levels of self-esteem are found for youths who attend church a few times a month but not almost every day, suggesting that the relationship may not be linear.

[5]    Stress-related growth is defined as personal growth or development in response to stressful life events.

[6]    To control statistically for the effects of social support on religious coping resources, religious coping strategies are regressed on social support-seeking measures. The residuals from this regression (that captured the variance in religious coping strategies not otherwise explained by social support coping strategies) are then included as the religiosity measure in the moderator model.

View full report


"report.pdf" (pdf, 818.46Kb)

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®