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Parental Divorce and the “Switching” of Religious Identity

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This article examines the impact of parental divorce on the likelihood that an individual has changed their religious identify. Using data from the National Survey of Family and Households, we use a theoretical framework of family structure and community ties to test the hypothesis that religious mobility is more likely among children of divorce compared to those from intact families. Distinguishing between parental divorce in childhood and parental divorce in adulthood allows us to assess the impact of parental divorce on religious socialization. For individuals raised as either moderate Protestant, conservative Protestant or Catholic, parental divorce increases the likelihood of both switching to another religion and apostasy. The impact of divorce is particularly strong for Catholics and conservative Protestants, who are, in general, less likely to be religious mobile. These findings add religious disaffiliation to the set of likely sequelae of parental divorce. In addition, the results of the study highlight the need to consider the relationship between family structure and religious processes in a community context.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: University of Chicago

Publication date: 2001-03-01

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