Friday, January 30, 2015

Visiting the Sins of the Fathers on the Heads of the Children

While youth who leave the Church do so for a number of reasons (see here), some of them deserve further exploration. Every youth who leaves the Church does so because of their own choices, but there are things that others do that can influence their choices in subtle and perhaps unexpected ways. Here I will examine a fairly recent article on the subject: Hsien-Hsein Lau and Nicholas H. Wolfinger, "Parental Divorce and Adult Religiosity: Evidence from the General Social Survey," Review of Religious Research 53/1 (September 2011): 85-103.

The research does not directly look at Latter-day Saints because the researchers actually threw out all their LDS data. The general picture seems to work with the religions they did look at with some differences in degree but not of kind.

Lau and Wolfinger look at the effect that a parent's divorce has on their children's religiosity. The researchers propose a number of hypotheses, about half of which were not supported by the data.

They conclude that:
The children of divorce are disproportionately likely to reject any faith they were raised in, or adopt religion if they grew up without one. (p. 98.)
In particular, parental divorce leads to apostasy for people who grew up with formal religion, but simultaneously induces people who grew up unaffiliated to find faith. (p. 99.)
How big a difference does divorce make?
Coming from a divorced family doubles the likelihood that Protestants, liberal or conservative, will become apostates. (p. 95.)
Parental divorce approximately doubles the likelihood that people who grow up as Catholics will become apostates as adults. (p. 93.)
For these researchers an apostate is someone who loses all their faith and becomes irreligious. Another effect of divorce is that
respondents from divorced single-parent families are more than twice as likely to change to another religion (p. 92).
Divorce is not the only thing that causes that sort of effect:
Our analysis indicates that the death of a parent while growing up increases the likelihood of denominational change. This is a surprising result given that many studies have concluded that parental death has negligible long-term effects on offspring. (p. 99.)
This study did not find any significant decrease in attendance associated with divorce, although I would guess that apostatizing would have some effect on attendance.

The study incidentally noticed a few other family issues that happen when children are young that later affect their religiosity as adults:
Children raised in acrimonious households are less likely to carry on with their parents' faith. Changing religions is more likely when the quality of the relationship between children and parents is poor. Similarly, Loveland suggests that people who spend less time with relatives are more likely to switch religions. (86-87, references omitted.)
All of these factors do not change the fact that the individual makes his or her own choices. It does suggest that family dynamics can play a role. Studies like this one underscore the importance of families. Parents need to be careful: "when they saw your conduct they would not believe in my words" (Alma 39:11).

The flip side of this study is that we can expect that many who join the Church will come from a background of broken homes without much a religious background. This brings its own challenges.

There are many good reasons to stay married. This is just one more.