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


The existing research for the low-income population on religiosity and parenting leaves gaps in understanding about the presence of connections between religiosity and parenting, and of the more in-depth questions of how religiosity influences parenting outcomes.

The primary knowledge gaps include the following:

  • A lack of religiosity measures that are relevant to specific outcomes in larger-scale studies. For studies seeking to understand the direct links and the mediators between religiosity and parenting outcomes, more in-depth, outcome-specific measures of religiosity are required.
  • A lack of a complete, comprehensive set of parenting outcome measures. Disparate parenting outcome measures are analyzed in isolation. Outcomes range from parental attitudes and satisfaction to perceived demands to distress to parenting style (authoritarian vs. authoritative) to parental involvement (emotional and instrumental) to frequency of interaction to spanking to parental values. The results can vary depending on the chosen outcome measure.
  • A lack of a complete, comprehensive set of parenting structure and relationship controls. Many studies do not control for relevant aspects of the family/parenting context. For example, a study might examine only single mothers without controlling for the nature of the co-parenting relationship.
  • A lack of comprehensive studies to examine effects for mothers and fathers parenting together and separately. Almost all of the studies in this topic area elected to focus on either maternal or paternal parenting issues. The result is family-contextspecific findings that leave an incomplete understanding of family context, the nature of co-parenting relationships, and how mediators between religiosity and parenting interact.
  • A lack of comprehensive, integrated research that includes a complete set of outcome and control measures.
  • A lack of research on subgroup differences, especially for studies of mediating effects. Much of the research in this area is focused on African American parents. Additional research is needed to understand how pathways and mediators differ for income, as well as denominational and racial subgroups.
  • A lack of qualitative research on the specific aspects of religiosity that influence parenting outcomes.

Although significant knowledge gaps remain in the area of religiosity and parenting outcomes, the existing conceptual and empirical research provides a strong foundation; however, it requires further integration. For example, it is possible that existing measures and data from the Fragile Families project can be examined in a more integrated fashion that simultaneously examines family context, gender and mediating factors to address several of the existing knowledge gaps. In addition, researchers could leverage existing household data sets that include more developed measures of religiosity  e.g., NSFH  to explore differences in the relationship between religiosity and parenting for low-income groups. The downside to conducting secondary analysis of these data sets is that most either lack comprehensive measures of relevant control factors or have underdeveloped measures of religiosity. Therefore, additional qualitative research or development of a national data set, designed to comprehensively examine the role of religiosity in low-income families, may prove more informative in the long run.

The review of the literature on the relationship between religiosity and parenting outcomes suggests that three closely related bodies of work have evolved simultaneously. One is focused on paternal involvement for both residential and nonresidential fathers. The second addresses single mothers and the unique set of parenting challenges they face. The third is the broader family process literature that considers diverse family structures and processes. Now that large-scale data sets include measures relevant to all three research bodies, this topic area would benefit from enhanced conceptualization that uses all three bodies of research to develop empirical testing of more comprehensive models. Key to the conceptualization process is the further development of a set of religiosity measures that can effectively assess both the institutional and individualized pathways through which religiosity operates in diverse low-income family contexts.

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