Religious Participation Over the Early Life Course

Age and Family Life Cycle Effects on Church Membership

Published In: Population Research Center Discussion Paper Series, no. 94-14 (Chicago : Population Research Center, July 1994)

Posted on on July 01, 1994

by Ross Stolzenberg, Mary Blair-Loy, Linda Waite

We attempt to integrate, elaborate, and test hypotheses about the determinants of church membership among young adults. We focus on the extent to which participation in religious organizations is affected by age, family formation and attitudes toward marriage and family. We use data from three waves of the National Longitudinal Study of the High School Class of 1972, which enables us to trace the church membership of young adults from approximately age 22 through age 32, and distinguish the effects of age on religious organization membership from the impacts of cohabitation, marriage, marital and cohabitational disruption, the ages of respondents' children, and attitudes toward the family. Our findings help to integrate numerous previous hypotheses, but many of our results could not have been anticipated from past theoretical or empirical analyses. We find both age effects and family formation effects on religious participation, but we also find that the impact of family experiences sometimes depends on the age of the individual. Our results also show that some aspects of family formation have dramatically different effects on the religious participation of women than of men. We 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 of the parents.

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