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Work, Family, and Religious Involvement for Men and Women:

"Family Values" or the Modern Family?

Penny Edgell (Becker)
Heather Hofmeister*
Cornell University

March 2000

*Direct all correspondence to authors Penny Becker at the University of Minnesota, 909 Sciences Building, 267 19th Avenue South, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 55455 or edgell@umn.edu or Heather Hofmeister at hah9@cornell.edu. This research was supported by the Lilly Endowment (grant # 1996 1880-000) and by the Alfred P. Sloan foundation (grant # 96-6-9). The authors thank Mary Blair-Loy, Mark Chaves, David Grusky, Darren Sherkat, and Brad Wilcox for feedback on earlier drafts, and Marin Clarkberg and Sonya Williams for advice on the statistical analyses.

The following is an abbreviated version of this paper.

Work, Family, and Religious Involvement: Family Values or the Modern Family?

Do family formation and social establishment predict religious involvement for both men and women given increasing individualism and rapid changes in work and family roles? Using a random sample of adults from upstate New York (N=1006), we find different predictors of men and women’s religious involvement using multiple involvement measures. Children and fulltime employment explain all forms of religious involvement for men; for women, having children predicts use of congregational ministries but not their own church attendance. For all respondents, religious individualism is associated with decreased religious involvement. We argue that "modern" family lifestyles reduce religious involvement, especially for married women who work fulltime. We call for further research to capture the contested and evolving nature of women's relationships with religious institutions.

Men’s and Women’s Participation in Religious Institutions
Analyses of religious involvement in the United States consistently have found that family formation and higher social status, including participation in the paid labor market, increase involvement (eg: Hertel 1995; Mueller and Johnson 1975; Myers 1996; Sherkat 1998; Stolzenberg, Blair-Loy and Waite 1995). Since the 1970s, there have been several inter-related changes in women’s paid employment and men’s involvement in the family, including the increased numbers of dual-earner families and men’s increased involvement in parenting (Furstenberg 1999, Nock 1998, Treas 1999). Some argue that increasing individualism has restructured individuals’ relations with work, family, and religion (Ammerman and Roof 1995; but see Sherkat 1998 for a counter argument).

Research examining the impact of these social changes on religious involvement has focused mainly on two questions. Stolzenberg, Blair-Loy and Waite (1995) ask whether family formation still increases religious involvement despite the rapid change in work and family roles, and conclude that it does (cf. Myers 1996, Sherkat 1998). Other scholars ask whether the rise in women’s full-time employment explains the shrinking "gender gap" between women and men’s church attendance, finding at least some support for this argument (deVaus 1984, deVaus and Mcallister 1987, but see Ulbrich and Wallace 1984).

Such work interprets involvement in religious institutions as a straightforward expression of an individual’s structural location, which deVaus and McAllister (1987) argue is best understood as a combination of an individual’s employment and family contexts. We argue that religious involvement is better understood as a socially-influenced choice (Sherkat 1998). We investigate how structural location and individuals’ own attitudes and beliefs combine to explain men and women’s religious involvement after a period of rapid change in work and family roles.

We ask a different set of questions, hoping to refocus the debate on the relationships between work, family, and religion. First, do family formation and paid employment influence men and women’s religious involvement equally, and through the same mechanisms? More generally, are the overall set of factors associated with religious involvement the same for men and women? Do men and women have different attitudes and beliefs about the relevance and role of religious institutions in their lives, and do these modify the effects of structural location on involvement?

To answer these questions, we compare the evidence for three competing hypotheses about the links between work, family, and religion for women and men: 1) a family values hypothesis that religious involvement is strongly tied to family formation and establishment for both men and women, 2) a equalization hypothesis that men's religious involvement will be more strongly predicted by family formation, and 3) a modern family hypothesis that wives' full-time employment will negate the effects of family formation on women's religious participation.

Using data from a random sample survey of residents in upstate New York (N=1006) we develop models of men and women’s church attendance, use of congregational ministries, and participation in other local religious organizations. We find that paid employment and family formation increase men’s religious involvement but not women’s. Religious individualism is linked to reduced involvement for all respondents; moreover, egalitarianism and religious individualism modify the relationship between family formation and religious involvement. We find the most support for a modern family interpretation, especially for understanding women’s participation in religious institutions.

To read Dr. Becker's other reports on this project, go here.

For more information about religion and the family, see our section of the site devoted to this topic, click here.




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