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

07/10/2009

  • A lack of research on homelessness and employment. This review identified fewer than five studies on homelessness and underemployment in the low-income population. In addition, there are a limited number of studies on religiosity and crime in the low-income population.
  • A lack of national longitudinal data collection. There is scant research using national longitudinal data that focuses on detailed outcome measures, including comprehensive measures of religiosity for diverse religious groups, as well as preferences for religious or spiritually based services.
  • Inadequate measures of spirituality or religious beliefs and religious practices from diverse religions that are specific to outcome measures. Most measures focus on individuals general religiousness and do not include religious practices from diverse religions. Religious measures are also not specific to economically vulnerable groups, such as barriers to church participation due to limited resources, stigma, or a lack of neighborhood churches. Many studies rely on single-item measurement.
  • Inconsistent distinctions between private or nonorganizational religiosity compared with public or organizational religiosity. Preliminary results indicate that to a limited degree organizational religiosity may affect outcomes differently compared with nonorganizational religiosity. These differences should be tested systematically.
  • A lack of research using data sources that goes beyond self-reported measures to study the effects of religiosity. Most of the studies in the low-income population are based on self-ratings of behavior without measures of provider and teachers assessments, biological markers, and standardized and diagnostic tests. Also, linking to administrative records  such as marital and divorce records, insurance claims, school performance indicators, or criminal justice statistics  can help to independently corroborate outcome measures.
  • Lack of comprehensive logic models within outcome areas. Very few studies utilize logic models that consider how specific aspects of religiosity and spirituality affect specific behavioral outcomes and how the religiosity-outcome connections vary with relevant contextual factors. Logic models (with corresponding empirical findings) are an essential tool as policy makers seek guidance from research findings to improve program and evaluation study design.
  • Inconsistent testing of mediating pathways between religion and behavioral outcomes and a lack of a consistent set of control variables. For the most part, it is unclear whether the effects of religiosity operate directly on outcomes or indirectly through various mechanisms, including increased social networks or peer effects or physiological processes. More work is necessary to establish the relative influence of religiously-specific and generalized pathways. Some research areas, such as marriage, tend to use a similar set of control variables, whereas health studies vary widely.
  • A lack of systematic analysis of whether religiosity has any buffering effect or operates differently for particular subgroups. A limited number of studies examine differences in the effect of religiosity by demographics and economic resources.
  • Limited research designs that do not go beyond establishing correlations. Selection bias issues and motivation to participate in religious activities have not been adequately addressed.
  • A limited number of qualitative research studies. Relatively few qualitative studies focus on religious and spiritual attitudes and practices at home, church, and in the community, and how these practices and attitudes affect behavior and interactions with providers. Content analysis of the spiritual and religious messages and observations of the interactions within church-based social networks would help to develop new measures that can be included in quantitative analysis.
  • A lack of experimental studies. Few experimental studies were identified that examine programs using religious messaging or curricula, or building on clients levels of religiosity to improve outcomes. There is a general lack of analysis for groups with differing levels of religiosity.
  • Limited research on community religiosity. There is very little research exploring community religiosity and how attitudes about and access to religious organizations affect individual behaviors.

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