Religious Participation Over the Early Life Course: The Interaction of Age and Family Life Cycle Effects on Church Membership

by Ross Stolzenberg, Mary Blair-Loy, Linda Waite

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This paper attempts to integrate, elaborate, and test hypotheses about the determinants of church membership among young adults. In particular, focus is on the extent to which participation in religious organizations is affected by age, family formation and attitudes toward marriage and family. The authors use data from three waves of the National Longitudinal Study of the High School Class of 1972 to trace the church membership of young adults from their early twenties through about age 32, and to distinguish the effects of age on religious organization membership from the impacts of cohabitation, marriage and the disruption of these relationships, the ages of respondents' children, and early attitudes toward the family. The authors' findings help to integrate numerous previous hypotheses, but many of their results could not have been anticipated from past theoretical and empirical analyses. The authors find both age effects and family formation effects on religious participation, but also find that the impact of family experiences sometimes depends on the age of the individual. Results also show that some aspects of family formation have dramatically different effects on the religious participation of women compared with that of men. The authors find that having children tends to increase religious participation, but that effect varies greatly with the combination of the age of the children and the age of the parents.

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