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Religion, Families, and Health

Religion, Families, and Health: Population-Based Research in the United States

Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 488
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  • Book Info
    Religion, Families, and Health
    Book Description:

    While the scientific community has experienced a resurgence in the idea that there are important linkages between religion and family life and religion and health outcomes, this study is still in its early stages, scattered across multiple disciplines, and of uneven quality. To date, no book has featured both reviews of the literature and new empirical findings. Religion, Families, and Health fills this void by bringing together leading social scientists who provide a theoretically rich, methodologically rigorous, and exciting glimpse into a fascinating social institution that continues to be extremely important in the lives of Americans.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4945-3
    Subjects: Religion, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
    (pp. ix-xi)
    Christopher G. Ellison and Robert A. Hummer
  4. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    Founded in part by immigrants searching for religious freedom, the United States remains a religious country by most conventional indicators (Sherkat and Ellison 1999). This social fact runs counter to the expectations of generations of social scientists, and is not fundamentally altered by the steady declines in weekly religious attendance that occurred during the latter half of the twentieth century (Presser and Chaves 2007), or by the modest growth of the “no religion” category in surveys of American adults (Hout and Fischer 2002; Sherkat, Chapter 20 of this volume). Indeed, recent data indicate that patterns of religious attendance have remained...

  5. PART ONE Religion and Family Life Outcomes

    • 2 Religion and the Timing of First Births in the United States
      (pp. 19-39)

      Religion is an ideational force capable of helping to shape humans’ reproductive strategies and actions through a variety of mechanisms, only some of which have been extensively explored by social scientists. Understanding religion’s connections to fertility behavior requires a comprehensive approach to conceptualizing both religious influences and fertility processes, one that recognizes their dynamic and reciprocal nature. This chapter outlines previous research on the links between religion and fertility, draws out the major theoretical contributions of this literature, and reveals ways in which new conceptualizations of religious influence suggest further theoretical and methodological advances in the study of religion and...

    • 3 Religion and Child Rearing
      (pp. 40-60)

      Parenthood is both a biological and social status. Viewed within a biological life cycle framework, parenthood can be seen as a natural outcome of reproduction and regeneration. Viewed from a social and cultural perspective, the situation of parenthood conveys certain rights, responsibilities, obligations, and associated expectations regarding the care and nurture of children. While the biological role of parenthood has important consequences for children—particularly in the transmission of genetic information and predispositions that may have developmental consequences—our focus here is on parenthood as a social and cultural phenomenon. The objective of this review is to consider how variations...

    • 4 Religion and Adolescent Sexual Behavior
      (pp. 61-85)

      In the United States, about 80 percent of young people experience sexual intercourse at some point during their teenage years (Singh and Darroch 1999). One important but poorly understood pathway that shapes sexual practice is religion and spirituality. There are numerous ways in which religion could affect adolescent sexuality and its practice, including contraceptive decisions, nonmarital sexual activities, and use of pornography. Religion can also influence sexual choices indirectly through its effects on friendship choices and dating patterns (Wallace and Williams 1997). Yet how religion in fact contributes to sexual values and behaviors is not well documented. Research on religion...

    • 5 The Influence of Religion on Ties between the Generations
      (pp. 86-105)

      Although prior research has examined the influence of religion on a variety of family behaviors and attitudes (e.g., marital quality, divorce, parenting practices; Mahoney et al. 2001), fewer studies have empirically examined whether and how religion influences the type and quality of involvement between the generations. A recent and growing body of research, however, suggests that religion may foster more frequent and positive ties between family members. An understanding of what motivates and fosters strong ties between the generations is crucial given the importance of strong affective ties and involved parenting (Borkowski, Ramey, and Bristol-Power 2002; Pleck 1997) and grandparenting...

    • 6 Religion and Family Values Reconsidered: Gender Traditionalism among Conservative Protestants
      (pp. 106-125)

      The resurgence of conservative Protestantism during the past several decades, and its adherents’ vigorous defense of traditional family values, has given rise to a body of scholarship on the gender attitudes of those within this religious subculture. Early research demonstrated that conservative Protestants have much more traditional attitudes concerning wifely domesticity, a patriarchal family structure, and marriage as a lifelong commitment (e.g., Gay, Ellison, and Powers 1996; Grasmick, Wilcox, and Bird 1990; Hertel and Hughes 1987; Huber and Spitze 1983; Roof and McKinney 1987; Wilson and Musick 1996; see Peek, Lowe, and Williams 1991 for a review of early research)....

    • 7 From Generation to Generation: Religious Involvement and Attitudes toward Family and Pro-Family Outcomes among U.S. Catholics
      (pp. 126-147)

      Catholicism is the most common religious affiliation in the United States, accounting for 27 percent of the U.S. population (Froehle and Gautier 2000). Recent estimates suggest that this religious group will continue to grow, largely due to the immigration of Asian and Hispanic Catholics (Davidson 2005). This large and diverse religious body has experienced a great deal of change over the last forty years. Far from being a monolithic body of believers, American Catholics have experienced and will continue to experience changes that affect their attitudes toward family life. While changes in society at large over this time period have...

    • 8 Religious Intermarriage and Conversion in the United States: Patterns and Changes over Time
      (pp. 148-163)

      The United States is a religious nation. The vast majority of Americans, when asked, profess a belief in God and affirm that religion is at least “fairly important” in their lives (Myers 2000, 285); about three-fifths of the population reports membership in a religious organization and 45 percent state that they attend religious services at least monthly (Sherkat and Ellison 1999). Almost all established religions encourage marriage and parenthood, and provide both guidance and support in these key tasks of adulthood. So it is no surprise that married adults and parents of school-age children are more likely to belong to...

    • 9 Childhood Religious Denomination and Early Adult Asset Accumulation
      (pp. 164-185)

      Wealth inequality has become increasingly severe in recent years. Basic characteristics of the distribution of wealth are well established, but the processes that generate this inequality are unclear. Wealth, or net worth, is the value of a person’s assets less their debts. Between the 1960s and the 1990s, total household wealth in 2000 dollars grew from $8 trillion to nearly $24 trillion (Keister 2000). Between 1989 and 1998, median household net worth increased more than 20 percent, and the number of billionaires in the Forbes 400 rose from 85 to 267 (Kennickell 2000). During that time, the proportion of wealth...

    • 10 Religious Affiliation and Participation as Determinants of Women’s Educational Attainment and Wages
      (pp. 186-205)

      Recent years have witnessed a renewed interest in the relationship between religious affiliation and education. Analyses of data on non-Hispanic whites from the 1987–1988 National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH) reveal that for both men and women, mainline Protestants and Catholics are at the center of the educational distribution; the mean years of schooling are about one year lower for conservative Protestants, and about two years higher for Jews (Lehrer 1999). Other research confirms that the level of schooling is relatively high for Jews (Chiswick 1983, 1988) and relatively low for conservative Protestants (Darnell and Sherkat 1997; Sherkat...

    • 11 Religion, Family, and Women’s Employment among Muslim and Christian Arab Americans
      (pp. 206-226)

      Religious influences on family and gender roles are at the center of numerous debates about the role of religion in contemporary American life (Bartkowski 2001; Gallagher 2003; Hardacre 1997; Sherkat 2000; Williams 1997). The accepted wisdom is that the tenets of major religious traditions restrict women’s achievements in the public sphere by prioritizing their obligations to the home and family (for a review see Lehrer 1995). Recent studies on Judeo-Christian groups are beginning to challenge this view, finding that the relationships between family, religion, and women’s economic activity are more complicated than previously believed (Becker and Hofmeister 2001; Gallagher 2003;...

  6. PART TWO Religion and Health Outcomes

    • 12 Religion and Depressive Symptoms in Late Life
      (pp. 229-247)

      The purpose of this chapter is to examine select issues in the relationship between religion and depressive symptoms among older adults. The discussion that follows addresses three main issues. First, data on the prevalence of depression and depressive symptomatology are examined. Following this, research on religion and depression is reviewed briefly. Finally, an effort is made to contribute to the literature on religion and depression by empirically evaluating a facet of religion that has received relatively little attention in this context: religious meaning.

      Research consistently reveals that mental health problems in the United States are widespread. Evidence of this comes...

    • 13 Religion and Physical Health among U.S. Adults
      (pp. 248-272)

      Recent studies have found that religious activities such as prayer and church attendance predict better self-rated health (Musick 1996; Koenig et al. 1997), mental health (Idler 1987; Ellison 1995; Idler and Kasl 1997a), life satisfaction and happiness (Ellison, Gay, and Glass 1989; Levin, Chatters, and Taylor 1995), and functional health (Idler and Kasl 1992; Idler and Kasl 1997b). However, this literature faces numerous limitations, including but not limited to an overreliance on cross-sectional data and narrow measures of religious activity and belief that are often dissimilar between data sets. Thus, although the theory in this area strongly suggests a beneficial...

    • 14 Religious Involvement and Mortality Risk among Pre-Retirement Aged U.S. Adults
      (pp. 273-291)

      A growing body of research demonstrates that higher levels of religious involvement are associated with lower adult mortality risks in the United States. While a handful of clinically based and community-based studies have considered the impacts of private religiosity and strength and comfort received from religious faith on survival status among the elderly (e.g., Helm et al. 2000; Oxman, Freeman, and Manheimer 1995), the vast majority of sociological and epidemiological research in the area has focused on the most clearly social aspect of religious behavior: public religious attendance. The importance of public religious attendance for mortality risk was documented in...

    • 15 Religious Attendance and Cause-Specific Mortality in the United States
      (pp. 292-320)

      There is a growing literature about the relationship between religious involvement and overall mortality. As Flannelly and colleagues (2004, 1234) have noted, “the beneficial effects of church attendance on all-cause mortality rates is the most solidly established positive effect on religion and health.”¹ But little research has examined the relationship between religious involvement and specific causes of death (for exceptions, see Hummer et al. 1999; Oman et al. 2002), even though cause-of-death analyses may provide insight into the mechanisms that lead to an association between religious involvement and mortality. Further, only limited research has examined these relationships by sex and...

    • 16 Race, Religious Involvement, and Health: The Case of African Americans
      (pp. 321-348)

      As the preceding chapters demonstrate, researchers from multiple disciplines have investigated the relationships between religion and health outcomes, including mental and physical health and mortality risk (Ellison and Levin 1998; Chatters 2000). Although this field has expanded rapidly over the past two decades, it remains in its early stages. Although the findings are not unanimous, and research on this topic continues to be controversial in some quarters (e.g., Sloan, Bagiella, and Powell 1999), mounting evidence links aspects of religious involvement with salutary health outcomes. Indeed, this is the conclusion rendered by the most extensive treatment of the field to date,...

    • 17 Jewish Identity and Self-Reported Health
      (pp. 349-367)

      One of the central questions of this volume is the extent to which religious involvement is beneficial for health and mortality. We consider this question within the American Jewish population. We look to understand how differences among Jews in a set of distinctively Jewish behaviors as well as in stronger or weaker subjective Jewish identification, factors that mark group membership perse, might be associated with self-reported health. Specifically, we examine: (a) the extent to which indicators of “Jewish identity,” conceptualized in terms of ritual observance and subjective identification, are associated with self-reported health; (b) the extent to which this relationship...

    • 18 Religion, Sexually Risky Behavior, and Reproductive Health: The Mormon Case
      (pp. 368-384)

      Scholars have long recognized that religion and the family are mutually reinforcing institutions (D’Antonio and Aldous 1983). There are numerous reasons for this close linkage (Houseknecht and Pankhurst 2000; Dollahite, Marks, and Goodman 2004). Moreover, each of these institutions can have beneficial health consequences. In this chapter, I explore the possibility that religious constraints on sexual behavior may reduce the risk of certain reproductive health problems, focusing on members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the LDS Church). More specifically, I examine the relationship between LDS membership, sexually risky behaviors, and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), unwanted pregnancies,...

    • 19 Religion and the New Immigrants: Impact on Health Behaviors and Access to Health Care
      (pp. 385-400)

      The new immigrants, those who have arrived since the radical change in U.S. immigrant laws in 1965, have introduced diversity of all kinds into American society. They come from more varied countries than earlier waves of immigrants; are more racially and ethnically diverse; speak more varied languages and dialects; and, related to the focus of this chapter, have introduced Americans to forms of religion that were unfamiliar prior to their arrival. In addition to bringing with them forms of religion little known in this country, they have helped to introduce new expressions of Christianity to Americans. Because of their large...

  7. PART THREE Looking Ahead

    • 20 The Religious Demography of the United States: Dynamics of Affiliation, Participation, and Belief
      (pp. 403-430)

      Religion is one of the cornerstone social institutions in American Society, profoundly impacting family relations, politics, health, and culture. Until recently, however, little systematic data were available that would enable a systematic demographic portrait of American religion. The data gap looms large because of U.S. religious diversity by denomination, race, generation, and life cycle. Further, U.S. Census data on religious affiliation and participation have not been collected for more than half a century, and the sporadic collection efforts of the past were ill suited for the construction of a demographic profile of American religion. Over the course of the twentieth...

    • 21 Future Directions in Population-Based Research on Religion, Family Life, and Health in the United States
      (pp. 431-454)

      The aim of this volume was to bring together a number of leading sociologists and social demographers to investigate whether and how religion continues to shape family life, socioeconomic attainment, and health in the contemporary United States. Given the careful theoretical and empirical consideration of these issues throughout these chapters, the overall conclusion is straightforward: religion matters for our understanding of a broad set of demographic outcomes, and this general verdict seems unlikely to change anytime in the near future. The contributors to this volume have demonstrated clear evidence of religious variations in a host of important domains of life...

    (pp. 455-458)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 459-468)