Tuesday, August 28, 2007

When do most adolescents become less religious?

Here's some more data from Regnerus and Uecker's 2006 study (see yesterday's post for citation & description).

This chart addresses how many kids have a big drop in religiousness each year from 13 to 18. So, the biggest drop happens at age 18, when 9.3% of the kids stopped going to church nearly as much.

The authors make an interesting observation that age 18 is the year that the most kids get into religion and the most get out.

Why do you think that is?


Corey said...

18 is a watershed age in the life course, when most American kids graduate from highschool and many gain distance from their parents and family. Those who don't share the convictions of their parents walk away from the church with this opportunity to do so. Others, run toward religion as they encounter the social stability from this new stage in the life course.

or not.

S.S.Stone said...

Thank you for that insight Corey. I was wondering why at age 18 it was a move toward and yet a move away from, but now I can understand it. It's simple enough but I sure wasn't even thinking in that direction.

Brad Wright said...

I think you're right... 18 is when all sorts of interesting things happen, such as the peak of the age-crime curve as well as religious mobility. No wonder so many sociologists study adolescence.

Jay Livingston said...

Eighteen might also be an age for leaving home. I wonder if there's a difference in this variable between those who leave and those who stay.

Also, earlier ages might be bargaining points, where the parent says, "You have to keep attending until you're bar-mitzvahed/confirmed/whatever; after that, it's up to you."

Corey said...


I think you're right. Remaining in the home of one's parents: (a) reduces the opportunities to stray from family norms, and (b) reinforces bonds that encourage sustaining family norms.

Heck, I'm in my mid 30s now and I still go to church with my parents when I'm in town. I almost never go to church otherwise. In fact, I stopped going to church regularly when I went away to college (at age 18) where no one was making me go, even though I was attending a Christian Liberal Arts College.

To flesh out my original point (perhaps) more clearly. The high school [secondary school for our Canadian friends] graduation marks a threshold in the lifecourse of North American adolescents. Whether the adolescent goes off to college, stays home for college, goes off to work, or stays home to work, life radically changes. At the risk of misusing a sociological term, this transition point induces an anomic moment. It seems to me that Brad's paradoxical data (that 18 seems to be the point when more adolescents leave the faith as well as the point when more adolescents come to the faith) can be explained by the anomic moment. There's no one forcing the youth to go to church anymore so s/he doesn't go. Or, the youth finds him or herself adrift at sea and a church (or some other primary group) is an attractive anchor to ward off the anomia.