A longitudinal study of the intergenerational transmission of religion

Vern L. Bengtson, Casey E. Copen, Norella M. Putney, Merril Silverstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

93 Scopus citations


The longitudinal study of religious transmission or influence across generations is an important but underexamined area of research, particularly in terms of the religious influence of grandparents. How much influence do grandparents have on grandchildren's religious beliefs and practices, and has this changed over the past 30 years? As grandparents have become increasingly important in multigenerational families, do they exert an influence on their grandchildren's religiosity that is distinct from that of parents? Drawing on the Longitudinal Study of Generations (LSOG), this article uses grandparentĝ€"parentĝ€"grandchild triads and a generational sequential design to examine the transmission of three dimensions of religiosity ĝ€" religious service attendance, religiousness and religious ideology ĝ€" across generations from 1971 to 2000. Results indicate that in 1971 grandparents significantly influenced grandchildren's religious service attendance and religiousness, but these effects had weakened by 2000. The opposite pattern occurred for the transmission of conservative religious beliefs where there was a significant grandparent on grandchild effect in 2000, but not in 1971. Grandparents were also found to influence all three dimensions of grandchildren's religiosity independent of that of parents, suggesting that religious beliefs and practices formed within nuclear and extended families persist into adulthood with parents and grandparents simultaneously serving as independent and joint agents of religious socialization. In these analyses it was found that the influence of grandmothers on granddaughters' religiosity was especially pronounced. In general, the study shows a significant degree of religious influence across three generations in the family, and offers an expanded view of religious socialization by considering grandparents as active contributors to the religiosity of young adults.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)325-345+458-459
JournalInternational Sociology
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Grandparent influence
  • Intergenerational religiosity
  • Religious influence
  • Religious socialization
  • Religious transmission

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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