Adolescents whose religious mothers die are likely to be less religious as young adults

Adolescents whose religious mothers die are likely to be less religious as young adults
Baylor sociologist Renae Wilkinson. Credit: Sarah Cochran

Bereaved children whose late mothers were very religious are likely to be less religious after their mother dies than youths who did not suffer a maternal loss. Conversely, children whose late mothers placed no importance on religion are more likely to become religious—especially when it comes to praying often.

But overall—while youths who experienced a mother's death are less likely to attend church—they are more likely to say that religion is important in their lives as , a Baylor University study has found.

"These findings suggest that there is a complex relationship between mother loss and religiosity, and it is one that may depend on maternal religiousness," said researcher Renae Wilkinson, a sociologist and doctoral candidate in Baylor University's College of Arts & Sciences.

Wilkinson's study—"Losing or Choosing Faith: Mother Loss and Religious Change"—is published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.

"For dealing with a mother's death, the loss is not only distressing, but also likely to violate beliefs about the timing of life transitions and to challenge ideas about the fairness of the world," Wilkinson said. "This is a disruptive event at an already disruptive time of life—the transition from adolescence to young adulthood involves role changes related to education, family and romantic relationships that experiencing the death of one's mother may complicate."

Past studies have shown that in general, children tend to mirror their parents in matters of faith over time, whether that be religiosity or atheism. And a study from the Pew Research Center suggests have more influence on their children's religious upbringings than fathers, especially in families with parents of mixed religious backgrounds.

But a mother's death during one's childhood is "an off-time death, when our norms break down," Wilkinson said. "A child may wonder why God chose to take the mother away so soon and could turn away from God—or turn toward God as a compensatory figure."

For her research, she analyzed data from two waves of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health. The first was conducted in 1994 and 1995 with in-depth interviews of a nationally representative sample of American adolescents in grades 7-12. The other wave was conducted in 2008, when participants were young adults ages 24 to 34. The final sample was limited to 10,748 of the initial respondents, allowing comparison of those whose mothers were alive and those whose mothers were dead.

The study assesses four aspects of both mothers' and children's religiosity: affiliation with a religious tradition, attendance at religious services, prayer and how important religion was to an individual. (To assess mother's religiosity, prayer was not included because it is considered private and likely to be less observable to children.)

"This study is an initial contribution to an understudied topic," Wilkinson said.

She said that future research could compare the effects of the loss of a mother versus the loss of a father and how those results might differ by the gender of the bereaved child. In addition, research should examine other outcomes following experiencing a parental over the transition to adulthood, such as psychological well-being and physical health.

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More information: Renae Wilkinson, Losing or Choosing Faith: Mother Loss and Religious Change, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (2018). DOI: 10.1111/jssr.12542
Provided by Baylor University
Citation: Adolescents whose religious mothers die are likely to be less religious as young adults (2018, September 11) retrieved 16 October 2019 from
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Sep 11, 2018
Among other things, Renae Wilkinson seems so delighted.
Another point. Religion is not the same a accepting the presence of God. Religion is ceremony, ritual, following the doggerel those in charge spread to "explain" why God does not behave the way they describe. Catholics call it "Apologetics".
Among other things, it's not necessarily like a giant Aladdin's lamp. You don't necessarily get something by just asking. You have to have earned it. So many run around thinking life is just work followed by sinking into a mindless pursuit of vacuous diversions called "fun". They see life as having no purpose. If you're doing what God wants done, He won't remove you. Likewise, fault on someone's part can lead to receiving unpleasantness to set them right, but many refuse to see fault, though.

Julian, do you see the contradiction? Nature, the universe and everything in it is based on oneness, logic and thus fairness and justice. Bad thoughts, feelings, actions lead sooner or later to negative consequences. Likewise, positive triggers produce positive outcomes due to universe-wide effects of natural laws. This whole beautiful reality would fall apart and become insanity, irrationality, untruth, if assuming that there would be some other extra-universal force that bypasses/overturns the clean, fair logic of universal laws turning everything into a scam. Events that due to a lack of us (not yet) recognizing and understanding the multitude and chain of preceding causes might appear as random, arbitrary and therefore unfair to the naïve, immature witness. However, it is plainly ridiculous to use a temporary gap of ratio or pending scientific discoveries as argument for postulating the presence of a master manipulator, at the insane cost of disconnect from reality and its truth.

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