God, Father, Mother, Gender: How Are Religiosity and Parental Bonds During Childhood Linked to Midlife Flourishing?

Abstract

While research in the United States reveals favorable associations between religiosity and well-being during childhood, adolescence, or adulthood, whether childhood religiosity improves flourishing among U.S. adults remains unclear. Following a life-course approach, we examine whether childhood religiosity, measured in terms of the importance of religion growing up, associates with improved midlife flourishing. Drawing on national longitudinal data from the United States (1995–2014 MIDUS study), we find significant and large associations between childhood religiosity and midlife flourishing, measured in terms of overall and domain-specific flourishing. Its effect size was on par with key demographic predictors. However, in line with the deeply interlinked nature of family and religion, childhood religiosity was linked to midlife flourishing only in the presence of a favorable mother–child relationship growing up. Men raised in religious homes with high maternal warmth reported nearly three-quarters of a standard deviation higher flourishing than those with low maternal warmth. Further analysis confirmed that this combination of religion and family among men in particular increases the odds of adult religiosity, as men seem more susceptible to “losing their religion” when experiencing strained maternal relationships. Analysis of 20-year follow-up data collected in 2005 and 2014 finds continued associations between childhood religiosity and later-life flourishing, suggesting a beneficial trajectory carrying into old age. Overall, we conclude that any robust effects of religion on well-being across the life course are likely to be interwoven with family, gender, and other social institutions, perhaps tracing in part to the distinctive, personalized culture of American religion.

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Availability of Data and Materials

Data were made available by the Interuniversity Consortium for Political and Social Research, Ann Arbor, MI. Neither the collector of the original data nor the Consortium bears any responsibility for the analyses or interpretations presented here.

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Upenieks, L., Andersson, M.A. & Schafer, M.H. God, Father, Mother, Gender: How Are Religiosity and Parental Bonds During Childhood Linked to Midlife Flourishing?. J Happiness Stud (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-021-00363-8

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Keywords

  • Flourishing
  • Religion
  • Family
  • Gender
  • Life course