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The percentage of students reporting religion plays an important part in their lives has decreased since the early 2000s.

Importance

Religion plays an important role in the lives of many children and teens[1] and is positively associated with many aspects of child well-being.[2],[3] Religious teens are more likely than their non-religious peers to engage in healthy behaviors such as exercising regularly and wearing a seatbelt, and to have healthier eating and sleeping habits.[4] They tend to hold more conservative attitudes toward sex and have lower levels of sexual experience,[5]
though some research indicates that religious adolescents who do have sex are less likely to use contraception.[6],[7]

In addition, teens who report that religion is very important to them are less likely to engage in violent behavior towards peers or teachers.[8] Teens who report religion is very important or pretty important in their lives are less likely to have been in trouble with the police in the past 12 months, to have used hard drugs, to have been offered drugs at school, to have sold drugs,[9] to steal, to vandalize property, to trespass, or to be sent to the principal’s office.[10] Teens who report religion is at least “a little important” are less likely to shoplift or to skip school, and they are more likely to participate in the community, to volunteer, participate in sports, or participate in student government.[11] Studies suggest varied explanations for these associations, including family religiosity, selection of peers, and the congruence of religious teachings with personal moral beliefs.

Trends

35_fig1During the 1990s, the percentage of students reporting that religion plays a very important part in their lives generally increased among all grades studied. For instance, the proportion of twelfth-graders who reported that religion was very important increased from 26 percent in 1990 to 33 percent in 1999. Between 2000 and 2010, however, the share of students who reported such a role for religion decreased significantly, from 37 to 29 percent among eighth-graders, from 32 to 25 percent among tenth-graders, and from 32 to 27 percent among twelfth-graders. Between 2010 and 2012, the proportion who reported that religion played an important role in their lives generally remained steady among tenth- and twelfth-graders, but increased among eighth-graders, from 29 to 31 percent. In 2012, the proportion was 28 percent among twelfth-graders and 26 percent among tenth-graders. (Figure 1)

Differences by Gender

35_fig2A higher proportion of female students than male students report that religion is very important in their lives. In 2012, the difference was five percentage points among eighth- and tenth-graders, and eight percentage points among twelfth-graders. (Figure 2)

 

Differences by Race/Hispanic Origin [12]

35_fig3At all three grade levels, black students are more likely than whites or Hispanics to report that religion plays a very important role in their lives. In 2012, 47 percent of black twelfth-graders reported that religion is very important in their lives, nearly twice the proportion reported by their white peers (24 percent), and more than one-and-a-half times the proportion reported by Hispanic twelfth-graders. Differences between black and white or Hispanic tenth- and eighth-graders follow a similar pattern. Forty-three percent of black tenth-graders reported that religion plays a very important role in their life, compared with 24 and 21 percent of white and Hispanic tenth-graders, respectively. Forty-six percent of black eighth-graders reported that religion plays a very important role in their life, compared with 28 and 30 percent of white and Hispanic tenth-graders, respectively. (Figure 3) Caution should be used when interpreting results for Hispanics, because students in Western states, where the majority of U.S. Hispanics live, were not asked this question.

Differences by College Plans

Students who plan to complete four years of college are more likely than students who do not plan to finish college to report that religion plays a very important role in their lives. For example, in 2012, 32 percent of eighth-graders who had plans to complete four years of college reported that religion was important in their lives, compared with 22 percent of those who did not have such plans. There was a similar pattern among tenth- and twelfth-graders.  (Appendix 1)

Differences by Parents’ Education

Students whose parents have a bachelor’s degree or higher are more likely than students whose parents have less education to report that religion is very important to them. For instance, in 2012, 24 percent of tenth-graders whose parents had no more than a high school diploma reported that religion was very important, compared with 27 percent with a parent who had completed college, and 28 percent with a parent who had attended graduate school.   (Appendix 1)

State and Local Estimates

None available.

International Estimates

None available.

National Goals

There are no specific national goals in this area,
but recent federal faith-based initiatives recognize the importance of
religious organizations in youths’ lives.

More information is available here.

Related Indicators

Definition

Students were asked, “How important is religion in your life?” This indicator reflects those who responded “very important.” This question was not asked of students in Western states after 2006, which include Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Washington, Oregon, and California.

Data Source

Child Trends original analysis of the Monitoring
the Future Survey, 1976 to 2012.

Raw Data Source

Bachman, Jerald G., Lloyd D. Johnston, and
Patrick M. O’Malley. Monitoring the Future: A Continuing Study of American Youth
(8th, 10th, and 12th-Grade Surveys), 1976-2010
[Computer files]. Conducted by University of Michigan, Survey Research Center.
ICPSR ed. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social
Research [producer and distributor].

ICPSR: http://www.icpsr.umich.edu

Monitoring the Future: http://www.monitoringthefuture.org/

 

Appendix 1 – Percentage of 8th-, 10th-, and 12th-Grade Students in the United States Who Report that Religion Plays a Very Important Role in their Lives: Selected Years, 1976-20121

1976 1980 1985 1990 1991 1995 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
Eighth Grade 29.2 30.3 33.4 36.6 34.5 35.3 34.3 32.5 32.6 33.1 33.2 31.3 30.0 29.1 30.6 31.4
Gender
Male 27.0 28.4 30.7 32.7 31.1 32.2 31.5 30.0 28.8 30.7 29.9 29.3 27.5 27.0 28.1  28.7
Female 31.3 31.8 35.8 40.1 37.6 38.2 36.8 34.7 36.1 35.3 36.2 33.5 32.2 30.9 33.2  34.1
Race/Hispanic Origin
Non-Hispanic white 26.4 25.9 29.5 32.5 31.5 30.6 30.9 29.2 29.7 30.6 30.9 28.6 26.4 25.0 27.5 27.8
Non-Hispanic black 46.9 45.6 51.9 52.6 48.8 52.0 52.0 49.2 46.0 46.0 48.9 45.2 46.3 44.9 45.5 45.9
Hispanic 26.3 27.4 29.6
Parental Education2
Less than
high school
30.1 27.0 31.2 31.9 33.0 33.1 33.2 30.2 27.0 30.2 29.8 28.4 24.7 25.1 28.0 29.5
Completed
high school
28.1 28.1 31.6 31.7 30.8 32.1 31.6 27.9 29.0 31.4 29.3 27.6 29.6 25.0 28.8 29.4
Some college 29.2 29.1 32.9 36.1 33.7 37.9 34.2 33.4 31.7 33.4 33.2 30.6 29.7 27.1 32.4 31.2
Completed
college
29.5 33.4 36.4 41.8 37.3 37.0 36.7 35.8 36.9 34.8 37.2 34.2 33.0 32.2 32.0 33.6
Graduate
school
30.6 33.0 34.1 41.0 39.9 37.1 35.6 33.5 35.5 34.5 37.6 34.1 29.9 35.9 30.9 33.3
College Plans
None or under 4 years 22.1 20.7 22.6 22.6 22.8 25.0 20.3 22.5 16.5 21.7 18.2 17.4 19.4 17.2 18.6 22.3
Complete four years 30.3 31.4 34.8 38.3 36.0 36.3 35.8 33.5 34.3 34.2 34.3 32.5 30.7 30.0 31.5 31.9
1976 1980 1985 1990 1991 1995 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
Tenth Grade 28.4 28.4 31.8 32.0 31.6 35.1 33.0 32.0 30.4 27.4 28.4 28.6 28.3 25.4 26.9 25.9
Gender
Male 26.0 25.8 28.4 28.7 27.4 31.6 29.4 28.3 25.7 24.2 25.2 25.6 24.9 22.9 22.9 23.4
Female 30.7 31.2 34.8 34.8 35.6 38.5 36.6 35.6 34.9 30.6 31.3 31.2 31.2 27.9 30.6 28.3
Race/Hispanic Origin
Non-Hispanic white 23.4 24.6 26.9 28.4 28.4 30.9 28.6 28.4 26.0 23.6 24.4 23.9 23.4 22.1 23.4 23.5
Non-Hispanic black 51.2 48.5 54.8 52.1 49.0 54.7 50.7 50.6 50.6 46.8 47.0 45.3 47.9 39.7 43.5 43.4
Hispanic 27.4 27.1 21.0
Parental Education2
Less than
high school
28.6 32.1 31.9 31.8 28.9 28.6 27.4 30.8 32.5 24.7 27.9 25.0 29.6 23.9 24.1 23.8
Completed
high school
28.4 26.0 30.6 28.5 30.5 31.9 30.8 29.3 27.3 23.0 21.8 24.8 26.1 20.4 24.6 24.2
Some
college
27.0 27.2 31.4 31.7 30.5 34.5 34.0 33.3 30.8 27.1 29.0 28.1 28.8 25.7 24.9 24.6
Completed
college
29.3 29.4 33.1 34.9 33.5 37.7 36.1 33.0 30.3 29.5 31.3 31.4 29.0 26.9 28.4 27.4
Graduate
school
29.0 30.9 32.9 31.4 34.2 40.4 31.4 33.6 32.3 31.8 32.8 31.5 29.2 29.8 34.2 27.8
College Plans
None or under 4 years 23.9 21.0 21.7 22.7 20.5 22.7 23.8 22.2 20.1 15.7 17.4 17.7 17.1 16.2 16.0 15.9
Complete four years 29.5 29.7 33.3 33.5 33.3 36.9 34.3 33.3 31.8 28.9 29.7 29.9 29.6 26.5 28.2 26.6
1976 1980 1985 1990 1991 1995 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
Twelfth Grade 28.8 32.1 27.3 26.4 27.7 29.9 32.9 32.2 32.3 33.3 31.0 31.1 31.7 29.7 28.9 27.4 27.5 27.2 25.9 28.1
Gender
Male 23.6 27.0 23.4 23.0 24.1 26.8 29.8 28.7 28.3 29.3 26.2 26.9 26.7 26.0 25.2 24.5 24.5 23.8 23.0 24.0
Female 34.1 37.0 31.0 29.8 31.4 32.7 35.6 35.2 36.3 36.7 35.0 35.4 36.3 33.0 31.9 30.0 30.6 30.4 28.7 31.7
Race/Hispanic Origin
Non-Hispanic white 25.8 29.3 23.4 22.2 24.0 25.8 28.8 25.6 26.7 30.0 25.5 26.9 27.6 25.3 23.9 22.0 23.9 23.7 20.8 24.2
Non-Hispanic black 50.9 49.6 52.5 53.5 50.3 51.9 55.4 58.1 57.0 51.4 56.0 54.3 53.8 52.9 53.8 47.7 55.3 45.5 45.9 46.6
Hispanic 25.2 26.7 27.8
Parental Education2
Less than
high school
33.6 37.3 32.2 31.7 30.9 33.1 35.7 35.9 32.0 33.7 30.3 33.9 32.4 28.5 29.6 26.3 27.2 27.1 27.0 23.0
Completed
high school
26.9 31.6 25.6 26.4 26.9 30.0 31.3 29.2 27.2 32.6 29.5 31.1 30.5 28.8 26.9 27.1 27.6 26.2 23.1 23.0
Some
college
28.3 30.9 27.4 25.3 26.9 28.6 33.2 32.0 31.3 30.7 31.3 29.5 29.7 29.8 29.3 28.4 26.0 26.2 25.9 28.9
Completed
college
29.0 30.5 26.4 24.9 28.5 30.8 34.4 34.4 34.4 36.4 31.9 31.9 33.2 30.8 30.7 27.9 28.2 28.2 26.3 30.9
Graduate
school
24.9 29.3 26.6 25.8 27.2 27.7 30.3 32.1 39.2 34.4 31.5 31.7 33.8 31.0 28.2 25.5 28.3 30.1 26.7 31.6
College Plans
None or under 4 years 25.3 29.7 23.5 23.4 23.8 24.7 28.1 24.1 24.8 26.0 23.6 24.2 24.2 23.7 24.3 19.1 22.4 21.0 19.8 20.2
Complete four years 32.0 33.8 29.3 27.4 29.4 31.4 33.9 34.1 34.0 34.7 32.9 33.0 33.4 31.1 29.9 29.2 28.4 28.2 26.9 29.4
1 Data after 2006 exclude students living in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Washington, Oregon, and California.2 Parental education is the average education of the two parents. In those circumstances where the gap between mothers’ and fathers’ education is more than one level, this results in an underestimate of the most educated parent’s education level.

Source: Original analysis by Child Trends of Monitoring the Future data, 1991-2012.

 

 

Endnotes


[1]Bridges, L. J., & Moore, K. A. (2002). Religious involvement and
children’s well-being: What research tells us (and what it doesn’t)

[Electronic Version] Washington, DC: Child Trends, fromhttps://www.childtrends.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/ReligiosityRB.pdf.

[2]Ibid.

[3]Smith, C., & Faris, R. (2002). Religion and American adolescent
delinquency risk behaviors and constructive social activities
[Electronic
Version]. Chapel Hill, NC: National Survey of Youth and Religion, fromhttp://www.youthandreligion.org/publications/docs/RiskReport1.pdf.

[4]Regnerus, M., Smith, C., & Fritsch, M. (2003). Religion in the lives of
American adolescents: A review of the literature
[Electronic Version]
Chapel Hill, NC: National Survey of Youth and Religion, fromhttp://www.youthandreligion.org/publications/docs/litreview.pdf.

[5]Bridges, L. J., & Moore, K. A. (2002).

[6]Thornton, A., & Studard, M. (1987). Adolescent religiosity and
contraceptive use. Journal of Marriage and Family, 49, 117-128.

[7]Regnerus, M. (2007). Forbidden fruit: Sex and religion in the lives of
American teenagers
. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

[8]Smith, C., & Faris, R. (2002).

[9]National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.
(2001). So help me God: Substance abuse, religion, and spirituality
[Electronic Version] New York, NY: Columbia University, fromhttp://www.casacolumbia.org/ViewProduct.aspx?PRODUCTID={0D8D736C-CC5B-40a8-91F5-84810E8978DA}

[10]Smith, C., & Faris, R. (2002).

[11]Ibid.

[12]Hispanics may be any race. Estimates for black and white students in this report do not include Hispanics.

 

Suggested Citation:

Child Trends Databank. (2014). Religiosity among youth. Available at: https://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=religiosity-among-youth

 

Last updated: September 2014

 

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