Role of Religiosity in the Lives of the Low-Income Population: A Comprehensive Review of the Evidence. Religious Beliefs and Parenting Practices


A second strand of research focuses on how the religious beliefs of low-income parents influence their approach to discipline, parent-child interactions, and responsiveness. While a substantial amount of research in this area focuses on the general population, only two studies (with small convenience samples) in this review were found to focus on low-income parents (see Table 3-3).

Table 3-3.
Religious Beliefs and Parenting Practices
Study/Data Source Relevant Findings
Determinants of disciplinary practices in low-income black mothers (Kelley et al., 1992)/ Geographic-Convenience Sample
  • Intellectual subscale of the religiosity scale and maternal education were positively correlated with child-oriented disciplinary attitudes.
  • The study found no association between religiosity and parental disciplinary behaviors.
Maternal resources, parenting practices, and child competence in rural, single-parent African American families (Brody & Flor, 1998)/ Geographic-Convenience Sample
  • Greater maternal religiosity is directly linked to more no nonsense parenting, harmonious mother-child relationships, and involvement in child's school activities.
  • Effect of parenting only indirectly affected child outcomes through increased child self-regulation.

Kelley, Power, and Wimbush (1992) examined the relationship between religiosity and disciplinary practices of low-income black mothers, using a five-dimensional fundamentalist religiosity scale (Faulkner & DeJong, 1966) that assesses ideology, intellectual knowledge, and the ritualistic, experiential and consequential aspects of religiosity. The study findings differ from studies focusing on the general population that suggest a connection between fundamentalist religious beliefs and parenting practices that emphasize strict child obedience. These findings suggest that only two of the factors examinedthe intellectual aspects of religiosity (e.g., knowledge of gospels) and maternal educationare significantly positively correlated with child-oriented disciplinary attitudes[3]. The other dimensions of religiosity (ideological, experiential) are statistically insignificant for low-income parents. Kelley et al. suggest that fundamentalism may foster a more humanistic and in-depth understanding of Christian doctrine (not a focus on child obedience), which translates into more child-responsive parenting values.

Brody and Flor (1998) also conducted a small-scale study of maternal resources, parenting practices, and child outcomes in rural, single-parent, African American families. The findings show that greater maternal religiosity is directly linked with no nonsense parenting (characterized by high levels of parental control along with affectionate behaviors), more harmonious mother-child relationships, and increased involvement in childs school activities. Maternal education and family resources are not linked with these outcomes. Parenting is only indirectly linked to positive child outcomes, through increased child self-regulation.

These two studies highlight the need for more extensive research on the specific mechanisms through which religiosity influences parenting styles in the low-income population. They also draw attention to the need to integrate research on parental resources and parenting styles/approaches for the low-income population. Finally, these two studies highlight the importance of examining relevant denominational and racial subgroups within the low-income population.

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