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Family Structure and Sexual Intercourse Partners–Adolescent Girls

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Adolescent girls living in intact married families have the fewest sexual partners.

Female students in Grades 7-12 have an average of 0.71 sexual partners when they live in intact married families, whereas those who have a stepparent or divorced parents have an average of 1.39 and 1.29 sexual partners, respectively. In between are those whose parents never married (0.88), and those who live in cohabiting families with one natural parent (1.07) or both natural parents (1.15), according to the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, Waves I and II.

Other Studies

Many other studies corroborate this finding.2 Patricia Goodson of Texas A&M University and colleagues insist that family structure is one of the most well-documented environmental factors affecting early sexual activity in adolescent females. According to the literature, girls living apart from their biological fathers due to out-of-wedlock births or divorce are most likely to become sexually active.3

H. H. Cleveland of Texas Tech University also finds that adolescent girls from non-intact families generally have more sexual partners than those from intact families.4

J. C. Abma of the National Center for Health Statistics and colleagues found that 43 percent of female adolescents living with both parents, biological or adoptive, have ever had sex.5 Comparatively, 64 percent of female adolescents living without a parent have had sex. In between are those living with a parent and stepparent (55 percent) and those living with a single or cohabiting parent (59 percent).6

Mignon R. Moore of the University of Chicago reports that white adolescent girls not living with both biological parents are significantly more likely to have sex at an earlier age. In black and white single-parent families girls are more likely to have sex early than those living with both biological parents.7

Moore and P. Lindsay Chase-Lansdale of Northwestern University also find that a black female adolescent in a cohabiting family is more than three times as likely to be sexually active than a girl living with her married parents.8 The daughter of a single parent whose marriage was disrupted is three times more likely to be sexually active than if she were living with married parents.9

The evidence overwhelmingly confirms that female adolescents are least likely to engage in premarital sexual intercourse when raised in an intact married family. When parents belong to each other in always-intact marriage their children benefit sexually and are less likely to make early mistakes in this area of life.

Patrick F. Fagan, Ph.D.

2 The following findings are from www.familyfacts.org.

3 Patricia Goodson, Alexandra Evans, and Elizabeth Edmundson, “Female Adolescents and Onset of Sexual Intercourse: A Theory-Based Review of Research from 1984 to 1994,” Journal of Adolescent Health 21 (1997): 147-156.

4 H. H. Cleveland and Michael Gilson, “The Effects of Neighborhood Proportion of Single-parent Families and Mother-adolescent Relationships on Adolescents’ Number of Sexual Partners,” Journal of Youth and Adolescence 33 (2004): 319-329.

5 The percentages in this paragraph are rounded up or down to the nearest whole number.

6 J. C. Abma, G. M. Martinez, W. D. Mosher, and B. S. Dawson, “Teenagers in the United States: Sexual Activity, Contraceptive Use, and Childbearing,” National Center for Health Statistics. Vital Health Stat 23 (24) (2004): 19-20.

7 Mignon R. Moore, “Socially Isolated? How Parents and Neighborhood Adults Influence Youth Behavior in Disadvantaged Communities,” Ethnic and Racial Studies 26 (November 2003): 988-1005.

8 The numbers in this paragraph are rounded up or down to the nearest whole number.

9 Mignon R. Moore and P. L. Chase-Lansdale, “Sexual Intercourse and Pregnancy among African-American Girls in High-poverty Neighborhoods: The Role of Family and Perceived Community Environment,” Journal of Marriage and Family 63 (2001): 1146-1157.

Religious Attendance and Shoplifting

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Adolescents who worship at least weekly are less likely to be repeat shoplifters than those who worship less frequently.

Whereas only 6.2 percent of students in Grades 7-12 who worship at least weekly have shoplifted three or more times, 10.9 percent of those who never worship are repeat shoplifters. In between are those who attend one to three times a month (7.5 percent) and less than once a month (10.4 percent). The data are taken from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, Waves I and II.

Other Studies

Several other studies on juvenile delinquency corroborate the direction of these findings.[2] Examining the same set of data, Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas at Austin and Glen Elder of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill reported that students who worship weekly are less likely to engage in delinquent behavior than those who worship less than once a month.[3]

Researching the National Educational Longitudinal Study, Jerry Trusty of Texas A&M University and Richard Watts of Baylor University found that high school seniors who frequently attend religious activities and hold a high view of religion are less likely to be delinquent than those who do not attend church frequently.[4]

Byron Johnson of Baylor University and colleagues studied the effects on juvenile delinquency of attending religious services, weekend religious community-oriented activities, and the individual importance placed on religion and such activities. They found that these religious activities are consistently associated with lower rates of delinquency, even when controlling for intervention factors (delinquent association and beliefs) and socio-demographic factors (household income and race).[5]

Johnson also found that the greater involvement adolescents have in religious activities, the less likely they are to commit a serious crime.[6]

In combating delinquent behavior such as shoplifting, frequent religious attendance proves to be significantly protective of youth and society.

Patrick F. Fagan, Ph.D.
Senior Fellow
Director of the Center for Family and Religion
Family Research Council

[1] This chart draws on a large national sample (16,000) from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. This work was done by the author in cooperation with former colleagues at The Heritage Foundation, Washington, D.C.

[2] The following findings are from www.familyfacts.org.

[3] Mark D. Regnerus and Glen H. Elder Jr., “Religion and Vulnerability among Low-Risk Adolescents,” Social Science Research 32 (2003): 633-658.

[4] Jerry Trusty and Richard E. Watts, “Relationship of High School Seniors’ Religious Perceptions and Behavior to Educational, Career, and Leisure Variables,” Counseling and Values 44 (1999): 30-40.

[5] Bryon R. Johnson, Sung Joon Jang, David B. Larson, and Spencer De Li, “Does Adolescent Religious Commitment Matter? A Reexamination of the Effects of Religiosity on Delinquency,” Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 38 (2001): 22-44.

[6] Byron R. Johnson, “The Invisible Institution and Black Youth Crime,” Journal of Youth and Adolescence 29 (2000): 489.

Family Structure and Shoplifting

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Adolescents who live with both biological parents are least likely to shoplift repeatedly.

Only eight percent of adolescents living with married parents and six percent of adolescents living with cohabiting biological parents are repeat shoplifters (3+ times),[2] according to the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, Waves I and II. Almost nine percent of adolescents living with a single, never married parent and ten percent of adolescents living with a divorced parent have shoplifted repeatedly. This percentage jumps to twelve percent each for adolescents living with a stepparent or with one natural cohabiting parent.

Other Studies

Several other studies corroborate these findings.[3] Wendy Manning of Bowling Green State University and Kathleen Lamb of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point reported that adolescents are less likely to be delinquent if they live with married parents than if they live with a single mother, stepfamily, or with a cohabiting mother. They also found, however, that adolescents living with just their mother are more likely to engage in delinquent behavior than those living with married stepfathers. Those living with their mother and her cohabiting boyfriend, though, are more likely to be delinquent than those living with just their mother.[4]

Jacinta Bronte-Tinkew of Child Trends and colleagues found that a father’s involvement with his children substantially decreases their risk of being delinquent, even controlling for variables such as socioeconomic status and mother involvement. They found, however, that the factor that exerted the greatest independent effect on delinquency was the intact family.[5]

Stephen Demuth and Susan Brown of Bowling Green State University also found that delinquency levels are lowest among adolescents living with married biological parents and that family income is not a significant determinant of adolescent delinquency.[6]

Cesar J. Rebellon of the University of New Hampshire reported that compared to adolescents from intact married families, adolescent boys (and to a lesser extent, adolescent girls) living with divorced parents are more likely to engage in delinquent behavior.[7]

In an examination of students in Edinburgh, Scotland, David Smith and Susan McVie of the University of Edinburgh found that adolescents living with both biological parents are less delinquent than their peers in single-parent homes or homes with a mother and stepfather.[8]

Though the data vary slightly among other family types, they repeatedly find that an intact married family is always the form of the family with the lowest level of delinquency.

Patrick F. Fagan, Ph.D.
Senior Fellow
Director of the Center for Family and Religion
Family Research Council

[2] Given the variance in both instances there is no significant difference between these two structures.

[3] The first and last findings listed are from http://www.familyfacts.org/.

[4] Wendy D. Manning and Kathleen A. Lamb, “Adolescent Well-Being in Cohabiting, Married, and Single-Parent Families,” Journal of Marriage and Family 65 (2003): 876-893.

[5] Jacinta Bronte-Tinkew, et al., “The Influence of Father Involvement on Youth Risk Behaviors among Adolescents: A Comparison of Native-Born and Immigrant Families,” Social Science Research 35 (2006): 181-209.

[6] Stephen Demuth and Susan L. Brown, “Family Structure, Family Processes, and Adolescent Delinquency: The Significance of Parental Absence Versus Parental Gender,” Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 41 (2004): 58-81.

[7] Cesar J. Rebellon, “Do Adolescents Engage in Delinquency to Attract the Social Attention of Peers? An Extension and Longitudinal Test of the Social Reinforcement Hypothesis,” Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 43 (2006): 387-411.

[8] David J. Smith and Susan McVie, “Theory and Method in the Edinburgh Study of Youth Transitions and Crime,” British Journal of Criminology 42 (2003): 169-195.

Religious Attendance, Family Structure, and Shoplifting

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Adolescents from intact families who worship frequently are least likely to shoplift repeatedly.

This chart depicts the percentage of adolescents in Grades 7-12 who have repeatedly shoplifted (3+ times) when correlated with religious attendance and family structure. Only six percent of adolescent students who live with both biological parents and worship at least monthly have repeatedly shoplifted. By contrast, over 12 percent of adolescent students who worship less than monthly and come from single-parent or reconstituted families have shoplifted repeatedly. In between are those in a non-intact family who worship at least monthly (7.9 percent) and those who live in an intact family but worship less than monthly (9.9 percent). The data are taken from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, Waves I and II.

Other Sources[2]

Several studies corroborate the direction of these findings. Byron Johnson of Baylor University and colleagues found that while religiosity in adolescents has a negative impact on delinquency, adolescents who live with both biological parents are also less likely to associate with delinquent friends.[3]

Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas at Austin reported that adolescents with higher family satisfaction and a greater degree of parent religiosity are less likely to be delinquent.[4]

In another study, Regnerus and Glen Elder of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that the more important religion is to adolescents and the more satisfied adolescents are with their family, the less likely they are to engage in delinquent behavior.[5]

Jerry Trusty of Texas A&M University and Richard Watts of Baylor University also reported that the greater the import adolescents place on religion and the more often they attend religious activities, the more likely they are to have involved parents and the less likely they are to be delinquent.[6]

The moral beliefs and values developed through frequent religious worship and an intact family powerfully counteract the temptations of shoplifting and other delinquent acts. Through attendance at religious service and the influence of married parents, adolescents are more likely to respect others’ property.

Patrick F. Fagan, Ph.D.
Senior Fellow
Director of the Center for Family and Religion
Family Research Council

[2] The last two findings are from www.familyfacts.org.

[3] Byron R. Johnson, et al., “Does Adolescent Religious Commitment Matter? A Reexamination of the Effects of Religiosity on Delinquency,” Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 38 (2001): 22-44.

[4] Mark D. Regnerus, “Linked Lives, Faith and Behavior: Intergenerational Religious Influence on Adolescent Delinquency,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 42 (2003): 189-203.

[5] Mark. D. Regnerus and Glen H. Elder, “Religion and Vulnerability among Low-Risk Adolescents,” Social Science Research 32 (2003): 633-658.

[6] Jerry Trusty and Richard E. Watts, “Relationship of High School Seniors’ Religious Perceptions and Behavior to Educational, Career, and Leisure Variables,” Counseling and Values 44 (1999): 30-40.

Religious Attendance and Fighting

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Adolescents who worship at least weekly are less likely to get into a fight than those who worship less frequently.

Whereas 37.9 percent of students in Grades 7-12 who never worship have been in a fight, only 27.7 percent of adolescents who worship at least weekly have been in one. Of those who attend religious services between one and three times a month, 33.5 percent have been in a fight, and of those who worship less than once a month, 35.4 percent have been in a fight. The data are taken from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, Waves I and II.

Other Studies

Several other studies confirm the direction of these findings. Todd Herrenkohl of the University of Washington and colleagues reported that “youths who attended religious services at age 15 had a 25 percent probability of later violence; youths who did not attend religious services at age 15 had a 41 percent probability of [later] violence.”[2]

John Wallace and Tyrone Forman of the University of Michigan also found that religious high school seniors were less likely to get into fights than those who were not religious.[3]

Patricia Clubb of the University of North Carolina and colleagues noted that minority adolescents in Grades 6-8 who attended church more than once a month were less likely to report any recent violent behavior than those who attended church once a month or less.[4]

Joanne Abbotts and colleagues of the Medical Research Council in Glasgow, Scotland found that 11-year-olds in West Scotland who were members of the Catholic Church or the Presbyterian Church of Scotland and attended church weekly “were less likely to get into fights. Similarly, aggressive behavior, as assessed by both teachers and parents, was less prevalent among weekly attenders.”[5]

One might say that the more adolescents attend religious services, the more likely they are to turn the other cheek.

Patrick F. Fagan, Ph.D.
Senior Fellow
Director of the Center for Family and Religion
Family Research Council

[2] Todd I. Herrenkohl, Karl G. Hill, and Ick-Joong Chung, “Protective Factors against Serious Violent Behavior in Adolescence: A Prospective Study of Aggressive Children,” Social Work Research 27 (2003): 179-191.

[3] John M. Wallace and Tyrone A. Forman, “Religion’s Role in Promoting Health and Reducing Risk among American Youth,” Health Education & Behavior 25.6 (1998): 721-741.

[4] Patricia A. Clubb, Dorothy C. Browne, Angela D. Humphrey, Victor Schoenbach, Brian Meyer, Melvin Jackson, et al., “Violent Behaviors in Early Adolescent Minority Youth: Results from a ‘Middle School Youth Risk Behavior Survey,'” Maternal and Child Health Journal 5.4 (2001): 225-235.

[5] Joanne E. Abbotts, Rory G.A. Williams, Helen N. Sweeting, and Patrick B. West, “Is Going to Church Good or Bad for You? Denomination, Attendance, and Mental Health of Children in West Scotland,” Social Science & Medicine 58 (2004): 645-656.

Family Structure and Fighting

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Adolescents who live in an intact married family are least likely to get into a fight.

Whereas 42.6 percent of adolescents living with one natural, cohabiting parent have been in a fight, only 28.8 percent of those with married parents have ever been in one, according to the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, Waves I and II. Among other family structures, 32.3 percent of adolescents living in stepfamilies, 36.7 percent of those living with cohabiting biological parents, 39.5 percent of those whose parents are divorced, and 39.6 percent of those whose parents have never married have ever been in a fight.

Other Sources

Many other studies corroborate these findings. Analyzing violence patterns among 1,642 black children and teens in an Alabama school district, Darlene Wright of Birmingham-Southern College and Kevin Fitzpatrick of the University of Arkansas reported that “family intactness had a significant negative relationship with fighting.”[2]

Roy Oman of the University of Oklahoma and colleagues also found that inner-city youth in two-parent households were more likely to report not fighting in the previous 12 months (67 percent) than those in one-parent households (58 percent).[3]

Revealing the primacy of the intact married family, Sarah Halpern-Meekin and Laura Tach of Harvard University reported that children who live with half-siblings “have significantly higher delinquency scores” than children who live solely with full siblings, “even though they are both being raised by their biological [married] parents.”[4]

Chris Knoester and Dana Hayne of Ohio State University found that family structure significantly affects youth violence at the neighborhood level. They found that “the proportion of single-parent families in the neighborhood [is] positively associated with an adolescent’s risk of committing violence.”[5]

When it comes to rearing well-adjusted children who can keep their tempers in check, there is no better coach than the intact married family.

Patrick F. Fagan, Ph.D.
Senior Fellow
Director of the Center for Family and Religion
Family Research Council

[2] Darlene R. Wright and Kevin M. Fitzpatrick, “Violence and Minority Youth: The Effects of Risk and Asset Factors on Fighting among African American Children and Adolescents,” Adolescence 41 (2006): 251-262.

[3] Roy F. Oman, Sara K. Vesely, and Cheryl B. Aspy, “Youth Assets, Aggression, and Delinquency within the Context of Family Structure,” American Journal of Health Behavior 29.6 (2005): 557-568.

[4] Sarah Halpern-Meekin and Laura Tach, “Heterogeneity in Two-Parent Families and Adolescent Well-Being,” Journal of Marriage and Family 70 (2008): 435-451.

[5] Chris Knoester and Dana L. Haynie, “Community Context, Social Integration into Family, and Youth Violence,” Journal of Marriage and Family 67 (2005): 767-780.

Religious Attendance, Family Structure, and Fighting

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Adolescents from intact families who worship frequently are least likely to get into a fight.

This chart depicts the percentage of adolescents in Grades 7-12 who have ever been in a fight, correlated with religious attendance and family structure. Only 27.1 percent of adolescents who live with both biological parents and worship at least monthly have ever been in a fight. By contrast, 43.5 percent of adolescent students who worship less than monthly and come from single-parent or reconstituted families have ever been in a fight. In between are those in non-intact families who worship at least monthly (34.3 percent) and those who live with both biological parents and worship less than monthly (32.1 percent). The data are taken from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, Waves I and II.

Other Sources

Many other studies confirm the direction of these findings. Wendy Manning and Kathleen Lamb of Bowling Green State University reported that teens who were more religious had less behavioral problems than other teens. They also found that adolescents living with married biological parents were less delinquent than those living within any other family structure.[2]

Michelle Pearce of Yale University and colleagues found that “a greater level of parent involvement and private religious practices were associated with a decrease in conduct problems over a 1-year period.”[3]

Lela McKnight and Ann Loper of the University of Virginia also reported that residing in a single-parent household was one of only two significant risk factors associated with delinquency in female adolescents. Degree of religious belief was one of five significant resilience factors.[4]

Christian Smith of the University of Notre Dame found that adolescent children whose parents attended church regularly were more likely to expect their parents to be upset if they discovered their children had been fighting.[5]

When it comes to keeping children from getting into fights, the intact married family that worships regularly is the most effective peacekeeping force.

Patrick F. Fagan, Ph.D.
Senior Fellow
Director of the Center for Family and Religion
Family Research Council

[2] Wendy D. Manning and Kathleen A. Lamb, “Adolescent Well-Being in Cohabiting, Married, and Single-Parent Families,” Journal of Marriage and Family 65 (2003): 876-893.

[3] Michelle J. Pearce, Stephanie M. Jones, Mary E. Schwab-Stone, and Vladislav Ruchkin, “The Protective Effects of Religiousness and Parent Involvement on the Development of Conduct Problems among Youth Exposed to Violence,” Child Development 74.6 (2003): 1682-1696.

[4] Lela Renee McKnight and Ann Booker Loper, “The Effect of Risk and Resilience Factors on the Prediction of Delinquency in Adolescent Girls,” Social Psychology International 23.2 (2002): 186-198.

[5] Christian Smith, “Religious Participation and Parental Moral Expectations and Supervision of American Youth,” Reviews of Religious Research 44.4 (2003): 414-424. This finding is from www.familyfacts.org.

Religious Attendance and Theft

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Adolescents who worship at least weekly are less likely to steal than those who worship less frequently.

Thirteen percent of students in Grades 7-12 who attend religious services at least weekly admit to having stolen at least $50 worth of goods, according to a confidential survey conducted as part of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, Waves I and II.[2] By comparison, 19 percent of those who never worship, 14 percent of those who worship one to three times a month, and 18 percent of those who attend religious services less than once a month have committed such thefts.

Other Studies

Several other studies corroborate these findings. Examining the same set of data, Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas at Austin and Glen Elder of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill reported that students who worship weekly are less likely to engage in delinquent behavior than those who worship less frequently.[3]

Christian Smith and Robert Faris of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill reported that only 6.4 percent of twelfth graders who attended religious services at least weekly had stolen. By contrast, 14.1 percent of twelfth graders who never attended religious services had stolen. In between were those who worshiped “once or twice a month” (13.9) and those who “rarely” attended religious services (13.5).[4]

Examining data from the National Youth Survey, Byron Johnson of Baylor University and colleagues also found that the higher the religious involvement of black youth, the lower the incidence of “serious crime,” which included felony theft, felony assault, robbery, and illegal services.[5]

This evidence indicates that students who frequently attend religious services are far less likely to steal.

Patrick F. Fagan, Ph.D.
Senior Fellow
Director of the Center for Family and Religion
Family Research Council

[2] This data indicates those adolescents who have stolen more than $50 worth of goods.

[3] Mark D. Regnerus and Glen H. Elder Jr., “Religion and Vulnerability among Low-Risk Adolescents,” Social Science Research, vol. 32 (2003): 633-658. The delinquency measures included stealing something worth more than $50 and stealing something worth less than $50.

[4] Christian Smith and Robert Faris, Religion and American Adolescent Delinquency, Risk Behaviors and Constructive Social Activities (Chapel Hill, N.C.: National Study of Youth and Religion, 2002): 32-33. This data indicates those adolescents who have stolen more than $50 worth of goods.

[5] Bryon R. Johnson, et al., “The ‘Invisible Institution’ and Black Youth Crime: The Church as an Agency of Local Social Control,” Journal of Youth and Adolescence, vol. 29 (2000): 479-498.

Family Structure and Theft

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Adolescents who live in an intact married family are less likely to steal than those living in step-families, those whose parents are divorced, or those raised by cohabiting parents.

According to a confidential survey conducted as part of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, Waves I and II, 13 percent of children who live in an intact married family admit to having stolen at least $50 worth of goods.[2] By comparison, 19 percent of children whose parents never married or are divorced have stolen as much, as have 20 percent of those living with a step-parent, 15 percent of those living with cohabiting biological parents, and 23 percent of those living with one cohabiting biological parent.

Other Studies

Several other studies corroborate these findings. Amy Anderson of Pennsylvania State University found that children living in one-parent households were more likely to commit property crimes than those living in two-parent households.[3]

George Thomas of the Research Institute on Addictions and colleagues also reported that adolescents living with both biological parents have the lowest delinquency levels.[4]

In a study of adolescents in the United Kingdom, Patrick Miller and Martin Plant of the University of the West of England found that children living in single-parent households were more prone to vandalism and theft.[5]

When it comes to raising adolescents who dont steal, in general, married parents do the job better.

Patrick F. Fagan, Ph.D.

Senior Fellow

Director of the Center for Family and Religion

Family Research Council

[1] This chart draws on a large national sample (16,000) from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. This work was done by the author in cooperation with former colleagues at The Heritage Foundation, Washington, D.C.
[2] This data indicates those adolescents who have stolen more than $50 worth of goods.
[3] Amy L. Anderson, “Individual and Contextual Influences on Delinquency: The Role of the Single-Parent Family,” Journal of Criminal Justice, vol. 30 (2002): 575-587. The four measures for property crime included: stolen or tried to steal something worth less than US$50; stolen or tried to steal something worth more than US$50; entered or tried to enter a building to steal something; and stolen or attempted to steal a motor vehicle.

[4] George Thomas, et al., “The Effects of Single-Mother Families and Nonresident Fathers on Delinquency and Substance Abuse in Black and White Adolescents,” Journal of Marriage and the Family, vol. 58 (1996): 884-894. The delinquency measures included stealing, assault, gang fighting, credit card or check forgery, breaking into a house or car, engaging in sexual relations, taking money from a family member without his or her knowledge, pushing or hitting a parent, and throwing something at a family member.

[5] Patrick Miller and Martin Plant, “The Family, Peer Influences and Substance Use: Findings from a Study of UK Teenagers,” Journal of Substance Use, vol. 8 (2003): 19-26.

Religious Attendance, Family Structure, and Theft

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Adolescents from intact families who worship frequently are the least likely to steal.

This chart depicts the percentage of adolescents in Grades 7-12 who have ever stolen more than $50 worth of goods, correlated with religious attendance and family structure. Only 12 percent of adolescents who live with both biological parents and worship at least monthly have ever stolen as much. By contrast, 24 percent of adolescents who worship less than monthly and come from single-parent or reconstituted families have stolen more than $50 worth of goods. In between are those in non-intact families who worship at least monthly (15.8 percent) and those who live with both biological parents and worship less than monthly (15.3 percent). The data are taken from a confidential survey conducted as part of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, Waves I and II.

Other Studies

Though little additional research has been done that correlates these three measures, what studies exist corroborate the direction of these findings. Wendy Manning of Bowling Green State University and Kathleen Lamb of the University of Wisconsin reported that adolescents who were more religious were less likely to be delinquent, as were adolescents who lived with their married parents.[2]

Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas at Austin and Glen Elder of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that adolescents who attended religious services at least weekly and adolescents who are satisfied with their family were less likely to engage in delinquent behavior.[3]

In another study, Regnerus reported that family satisfaction and religiosity were strong protective factors against adolescent delinquency, although religiosity affected adolescent boys only indirectly through higher levels of family satisfaction.[4]

The available evidence indicates that the dual influence of religious attendance and an intact married family prove to be most effective in reducing theft by adolescents.

Patrick F. Fagan, Ph.D.
Senior Fellow
Director of the Center for Family and Religion
Family Research Council

[1] This chart draws on a large national sample (16,000) from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. This work was done by the author in cooperation with former colleagues at The Heritage Foundation, Washington, D.C.

[2] Wendy D. Manning and Kathleen A. Lamb, “Adolescent Well-Being in Cohabiting, Married, and Single-Parent Families,” Journal of Marriage and Family, vol. 65 (2003): 876-893. The delinquency measures included stealing something worth more than $50 and stealing something worth less than $50.

[3] Mark D. Regnerus and Glen H. Elder, “Religion and Vulnerability among Low-Risk Adolescents,” Social Science Research, vol. 32 (2003): 633-658. The delinquency measures included stealing something worth more than $50 and stealing something worth less than $50.

[4] Mark D. Regnerus, “Linked Lives, Faith, and Behavior: Intergenerational Religious Influence on Adolescent Delinquency,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, vol. 42 (2003): 189-203. The delinquency measures included stealing something worth more than $50 and stealing something worth less than $50.