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For students in tenth and twelfth grades, attendance at religious services generally declined between 2002 and 2012. Eighth-graders’ attendance shows a different pattern, increasing between 2009 and 2012.

Importance

Religion plays an important role in the lives of many children and teens,[1] as well as being positively associated with many other aspects of child well-being. Teens who attend religious services once a week or more (as well as teens who feel religion is very important to them) are less likely to take risks and to enjoy danger, fight with another student, or get in trouble with the police.[2] These teens are also less likely to be suspended or expelled, or to be sent to detention or to the principal’s office.[3] Teens who attend any religious services, or feel religion is at least a little important, are less likely to hit a teacher or to skip school, and more likely to volunteer, participate in student government, and participate in sports or other exercise.[4] These teens are also less likely than those who do not attend religious services to drink alcohol and use illicit drugs.[5] In addition, teens who attend religious services tend to hold more conservative attitudes toward sex and to have less sexual experience.[6]

Religious service attendance is positively correlated with education measures, such as academic expectations among high school students, and verbal test scores among girls.[7]One study found that the academic benefit of religious service attendance for youth living in low-income neighborhoods increased as negative factors such as poverty and unemployment increased.[8]

Trends

32_fig1Between 1991 and 2002, the percentage of twelfth- and tenth-grade students who reported attending religious services at least once a week increased modestly, from 31 to 35 percent, and from 38 to 42 percent, respectively. Between 2002 and 2012, however, religious attendance decreased significantly to 31 percent for twelfth-graders, and 34 percent for tenth-graders. Eighth-graders’ attendance has followed a different pattern, with those reporting frequent religious service attendance fluctuating between 42 and 47 percent from 1991 to 2007. Between 2007 and 2009, eighth-graders’ attendance decreased from 44 to 38 percent, but increased to 42 percent by 2011. In 2012, 41 percent of eighth-graders attended religious services at least once a week. (Figure 1)

Differences by Gender

In 2012, females in all three grades were more likely than males to report attending religious services. Among twelfth-graders, 27 percent of males, and 34 percent of females, attended. Among tenth-graders, 31 percent of males, and 36 percent of females, attended. Among eighth graders, 39 percent of males, and 44 percent of females, attended. (Appendix 1)

Differences by Race/Hispanic Origin [9]

32_fig2Among eighth-, tenth-, and twelfth-graders, black students are more likely than white students to say they attend religious services. This gap is greatest among twelfth-graders. In 2012, for example, 48 percent of black eighth-graders attended religious services at least once a week, compared with 41 percent of white eighth-graders. (Appendix 1) By twelfth grade, that gap increases to 10 percentage points, with 39 percent of black twelfth-graders attending religious services, compared with 29 percent of white twelfth-graders. The black-white difference has remained steady for the past ten years. (Figure 2) Significantly fewer Hispanic students than either blacks or whites report attending religious services at eighth and twelfth grade (38 and 26 percent, respectively, in 2012), but there is no significant difference between Hispanic and white students’ attendance in tenth grade. (Appendix 1) 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 Parental Education

32_fig3Students whose parents have graduated from college are more likely than students whose parents have less education to say they attend religious services, a pattern present across the three grade levels. For example, among eighth-grade students in 2012, 47 percent of those whose parents had completed college reported attending religious services regularly, compared with 32 percent of those whose parents had not completed high school. (Figure 3)

Differences by College Plans

Students who plan to complete four years of college are more likely than students who do not have such plans to say they attend religious services. In 2012, 32 percent of twelfth-graders who planned to complete four years of college attended religious services at least weekly, compared with 22 percent of those who did not have such plans. Similar differences are found among tenth- and eighth-grade students. (Appendix 1)

State and Local Estimates

State estimates of children’s attendance at religious services (parent-reported) for 2011/12 are available from the National Survey of Children’s Health.

International Estimates

None available.

National Goals

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

More information is available at here.

Related Indicators

Definition

Students were asked, “How often do you attend religious services?” This indicator reflects those who answered “about once a week or more.” 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
Monitoring the Future Survey data, 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].

 

Appendix 1 – Percentage of 8th-, 10th-, and 12th-Grade Students Who Attend Religious Services at Least Once a Week: Selected Years, 1976-2012 1

1976 1980 1985 1990 1991 1995 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
Eighth Grade 46.8 43.4 44.5 45.3 44.5 44.4 44.3 42.9 41.7 42.2 43.7 42.5 38.3 39.5 42.2 41.3
Gender
Male 44.1 39.5 42.0 42.9 41.3 41.4 42.4 40.9 39.3 40.1 41.3 40.9 36.3 36.5 40.1 39.0
Female 49.8 45.0 47.0 48.2 47.7 47.4 46.1 44.9 44.2 44.3 46.1 44.5 40.2 42.4 44.5 43.7
Race/Hispanic Origin
Non-Hispanic white 48.6 43.3 46.1 46.2 44.9 46.3 45.0 44.0 42.5 43.8 45.6 43.5 37.6 39.3 42.3 41.0
Non-Hispanic black 47.0 46.0 46.5 49.9 49.2 44.7 48.4 44.8 45.7 46.6 47.2 46.7 43.1 48.0 47.1 48.1
Hispanic 33.8 38.4 37.9
Parental Education2
Less than
high school
33.4 29.8 32.7 30.4 30.8 31.8 33.3 30.1 29.8 30.6 31.2 30.5 30.0 27.0 36.4 32.1
Completed
high school
41.9 35.3 37.5 36.1 35.7 36.7 37.3 33.6 34.1 35.6 36.3 33.9 32.3 30.8 36.9 35.4
Some
college
48.9 43.3 44.8 45.8 44.3 46.2 45.2 43.7 40.8 42.5 45.0 43.7 38.1 38.3 41.6 39.7
Completed
college
52.4 50.1 52.9 55.2 52.5 50.6 51.9 50.8 48.9 50.0 50.9 48.3 44.0 46.6 46.9 46.8
Graduate
school
54.5 51.1 53.9 55.3 57.8 52.1 48.4 50.5 51.7 52.2 53.3 51.5 45.0 50.8 47.1 46.9
College Plans
None or under 4 years 33.0 28.0 28.1 26.6 26.5 28.6 29.2 27.9 19.6 26.1 25.7 24.2 24.7 19.2 26.8 28.2
Complete four years 49.2 44.4 46.9 48.0 46.8 46.1 46.1 44.5 44.3 44.0 45.3 44.2 39.4 41.2 43.4 42.1
1976 1980 1985 1990 1991 1995 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
Tenth Grade 38.1 37.1 38.3 39.0 40.3 42.1 40.3 40.2 37.8 35.8 36.1 36.3 34.5 33.4 34.4 33.5
Gender
Male 34.8 35.1 36.4 37.0 37.1 39.7 38.8 38.6 36.2 34.8 34.0 34.1 35.6 30.3 31.9 31.3
Female 41.5 39.4 40.2 40.8 43.3 44.5 41.7 41.8 39.6 36.8 38.1 38.4 34.2 36.4 36.9 35.8
Race/Hispanic Origin
Non-Hispanic white 38.4 36.6 37.4 38.8 40.7 41.1 40.4 40.9 37.5 35.7 35.2 36.4 34.0 32.3 33.7 33.5
Non-Hispanic black 42.7 43.5 43.9 42.4 45.6 48.2 42.9 44.6 41.9 41.0 42.3 41.7 44.2 38.1 38.3 40.4
Hispanic 34.9 36.3 28.8
Parental Education2
Less than
high school
30.0 29.8 27.3 28.9 27.5 27.9 22.9 29.2 26.6 22.3 28.7 27.6 30.0 28.4 27.0 29.5
Completed
high school
31.7 29.8 32.6 32.0 32.6 34.2 32.0 32.3 30.0 26.5 25.5 26.6 28.7 25.1 36.9 27.3
Some
college
37.9 36.1 38.5 38.6 39.0 41.4 40.8 40.5 36.7 32.4 34.2 34.9 31.2 31.0 32.6 30.0
Completed
college
44.6 43.1 45.7 45.4 48.1 49.4 48.6 45.3 43.2 43.1 42.2 42.8 41.3 39.7 39.2 37.8
Graduate
school
46.8 46.7 43.6 45.2 49.1 52.2 47.3 47.5 47.0 50.1 49.2 47.7 43.0 41.5 45.1 41.1
College Plans
None or under 4 years 28.0 24.9 23.4 25.8 26.5 26.1 27.6 27.6 23.2 19.0 20.2 21.5 20.6 20.8 19.3 22.6
Complete four years 40.4 39.3 40.8 41.1 42.4 44.7 42.2 41.8 39.9 38.2 38.1 38.2 35.9 35.0 36.1 34.3
1976 1980 1985 1990 1991 1995 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
Twelfth Grade 40.8 43.0 35.3 30.5 31.2 32.2 33.5 33.0 33.3 34.9 32.6 32.8 33.1 32.1 30.2 29.4 29.7 29.7 28.2 30.6
Gender
Male 35.8 39.4 31.6 28.2 28.1 29.7 32.8 31.3 31.1 32.6 29.8 30.6 30.4 30.2 28.4 28.2 28.7 28.5 27.1 27.4
Female 46.1 46.7 38.9 33.2 34.4 34.6 34.1 34.5 35.5 36.9 35.1 35.2 35.7 34.1 31.7 30.3 31.0 30.8 29.5 33.8
Race/Hispanic Origin
Non-Hispanic white 42.2 43.9 35.6 30.1 30.9 31.2 33.1 30.9 31.0 34.0 30.6 31.6 32.0 30.7 29.2 28.0 29.2 29.1 26.0 29.0
Non-Hispanic black 36.4 42.1 36.3 38.5 37.9 39.6 39.3 42.9 45.2 41.9 45.0 41.9 41.6 44.4 41.3 38.5 40.0 38.0 38.6 39.2
Hispanic 26.9 26.7 26.0
Parental Education2
Less than
high school
35.0 39.6 30.5 25.8 27.9 29.3 22.9 26.6 27.5 25.3 23.9 26.0 25.8 23.8 21.0 19.8 20.6 25.0 24.5 20.5
Completed
high school
39.1 41.6 31.4 27.5 26.8 27.1 28.9 26.9 26.3 29.6 26.8 28.7 28.0 28.4 24.8 24.2 23.7 23.8 22.7 22.8
Some
college
43.2 43.6 36.8 30.8 31.2 31.2 33.0 32.6 31.6 33.1 32.0 31.2 31.7 31.5 29.8 28.7 29.1 28.5 26.5 29.0
Completed
college
44.4 46.7 40.8 34.5 36.6 37.6 39.4 38.5 38.7 41.6 38.7 38.7 37.2 36.7 36.3 35.3 35.0 34.2 32.8 36.9
Graduate
school
42.2 45.1 41.0 35.9 36.5 37.4 38.3 39.6 45.0 42.5 40.1 38.9 40.7 37.8 36.8 36.6 37.2 39.4 34.3 40.8
College Plans
None or under 4 years 36.8 38.2 28.6 23.2 24.2 24.7 25.5 22.1 22.7 24.1 22.8 22.6 24.6 23.8 22.6 19.4 19.8 20.3 20.0 21.7
Complete four years 45.5 47.0 39.9 33.8 34.3 34.7 35.9 36.1 36.1 37.8 35.3 35.7 35.4 34.4 32.0 31.8 31.8 31.6 30.0 32.4
1 Data after 1996 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]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.

[3]Ibid.

[4]Ibid.

[5]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}

[6]Bridges, L. J., & Moore, K. A. (2002). Op cit.

[7]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.

[8]Ibid.

[9]Hispanics may be any race.
Estimates for whites and blacks in this report do not include Hispanics.

 

Suggested Citation:

Child Trends Databank. (2014). Attendance at religious services. Available at: https://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=religious-service-attendance

 

Last updated: September 2014

 

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