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


While the presence of a relationship between religiosity and various youth outcomes is well-documented in the literature, the existing research leaves gaps in our understanding of how religiosity influences outcomes directly or indirectly, what specific aspects/dimensions of religiosity have the strongest effects, and how these patterns vary depending on the outcome of interest for the low-income population.

Key areas in which there are identified gaps in research targeting the low-income population:

  • Lack of quantitative research on the mediators of the relationship between religiosity and youth outcomes. Few to no quantitative studies exist that are specific to low-income youths. Also, there is not yet enough use of newly developed quantitative methods and longitudinal data to establish causality.
  • Lack of qualitative/observational work on how specific aspects of religiosity influences youths lives. In their preliminary qualitative/interview work, Smith and Denton (2005) identify how challenging it is for youth to articulate how religiosity factors into their lives. Those authors suggest that understanding religiositys influence on youths lives requires both self-reported and observational data.
  • Need for additional quantitative analysis testing the specific mechanisms through which religiosity functions, ensuring proper controls for two main factors that can be correlated with youth religiosity involvement  social support and participation in other secular activities.
  • Only preliminary testing of the interaction effects of religiosity and other developmental/psychological assets. Preliminary findings suggest that religiosity can have multiplicative effects when mixed with other activities. These multiplicative effects should be confirmed with more empirical evidence and understood in greater depth.
  • Need for additional subgroup analysis to understand how relationships between religiosity and outcome varies (or does not vary) by religious denomination, gender, and race, and by outcome of interest.
  • Need for additional studies that employ multidimensional measures of religiosity and more studies that vary both the religiosity measure and the outcome of interest, because findings from existing research suggest that the religiosity measure-outcome pair influences findings and conclusions.

Another evident gap is our understanding about how religiosity (in particular parent and family religiosity) influences early childhood developmental outcomes. As mentioned previously in this section, this line of work is early in its developmentonly a handful of studies exist on this topic (including one low-income study). However, the availability of national data sets and the already well-developed set of measures of religiosity (which consider child and parent religiosity and family religious context) provide a promising foundation for future research.

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