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Black Income Mobility: Racism or Family Culture?*

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As a young psychologist in the early 1970s I learned that resolving the conflicts between the married parents led to “spontaneous” recovery for 90% of the children referred to me for treatment — without any direct treatment of the child. Restore order in the parent’s marriage and the children’s internal chaos and its resulting symptoms disappear.

One recent “progressive theme” in today’s discourse is racism targeted at Black Americans. A very good example from some of the best, brightest, and well-intentioned journalists can be seen in this New York Times Upshot article, entitled Extensive Data Shows Punishing Reach of Racism for Black Boys”.   A similar piece on income mobility by ethnic background, using the same data set appeared a week later.

Before I criticize the direction of the articles because it avoids the most compelling data, let me be loud in my praise of the journalists and the analysis they are doing. It is wonderful. The New York Times must be praised for giving them the resources to do this quality of work. I invite you to use the it, by playing around with variables they make available.

Now let’s look at their case for racism against Blacks

1)    Looking at those who start out in the bottom quintile (the poor) clear ethnic disparities become apparent when I ran the numbers on their site. Black children struggle the most at making it into the “rich” quintile in adulthood and while (37%) stay in poverty (though American Indians do worst at 45%).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2)    Looking at those who start out in the top quintile (the rich) clear ethnic disparities are also apparent: Black children do worst at staying rich in their adulthood.

Is this racism?

The NYT editors clearly think so, given their title for the article “Extensive Data Shows Punishing Reach of Racism for Black Boys” and by their quoting a professor who preaches this message:

“One of the most popular liberal post-racial ideas is the idea that the fundamental problem is class and not race, and clearly this study explodes that idea,” said Ibram Kendi, a professor and director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University. “But for whatever reason, we’re unwilling to stare racism in the face.”

I think the professor should study the articles and the data again: Some of the analysis and one of the charts points to the elephant in the room no one wants to name: marriage. It is politically very incorrect and flies in the face of the “progressive” interpretation of the data.

For instance, the article points out:

“The authors [of the underlying study from which the NYT data is drawn] including the Stanford economist Raj Chetty and two census researchers, Maggie R. Jones and Sonya R. Porter, tried to identify neighborhoods where poor black boys do well, and as well as whites. —The few neighborhoods that met this standard were in areas that showed less discrimination in surveys and tests of racial bias. They mostly had low poverty rates. And, intriguingly, these pockets — including parts of the Maryland suburbs of Washington, and corners of Queens and the Bronx — were the places where many lower-income black children had fathers at home. Poor black boys did well in such places, whether their own fathers were present or not. — The few areas in which black-white gaps are relatively small tend to be low-poverty neighborhoods with low levels of racial bias among whites and high rates of father presence among blacks [emphasis added]. Black males who move to such neighborhoods earlier in childhood earn more and are less likely to be incarcerated. However, fewer than 5% of black children grow up in such environments.”

These neighborhoods are found in parts of DC and Maryland… close enough to where Professor Kendi of American University works.

But not everyone is happy with the implication that marriage might have something to do with it:

“That is a pathbreaking finding,” said William Julius Wilson, a Harvard sociologist whose books have chronicled the economic struggles of black men. “They’re not talking about the direct effects of a boy’s own parents’ marital status. They’re talking about the presence of fathers in a given census tract.”

But here is the stark reality: Marriage is making the difference in virtually every case (for Blacks, Whites, Asian Americans, Hispanics and Whites). Marriage is non-racist: its benefits apply across all races and its absence hurts across all races. But its absence is greatest in the Black family. Add to this the compounding effects of intergenerational marriage-intactness or non-intactness and the power of marriage and the destructiveness of its absence is multiplied.

The huge differences in rates of family intactness are visible in this NYT chart.[1]

On rates of marriage the poorest whites do better than the richest blacks. Poor white boys have a much higher chance of having their father present than rich black boys do. Is this racism?

Here is the national data across ethnic groups, from the American Community Survey (annual mini-census).

    These ratios have remained relatively stable over the last decade, and it is worth noting that the rate of marriage among Black men in 1965 when Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote, The Moynihan Report: The Negro Family: The Case for National Action, was as high, if not higher than in the Asian family today (our most intact ethnic group). The following data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics illustrates the fall in marriage rates by level of education among black men aged 25-54 between 1070 and 2010.

From the analysis MARRI did in 2013 we know that marriage rates between the rich districts and the poverty tracts of the District of Columbia (North West vs. South East, DC) differ almost by 10 times (over 900%).  This chart above shows the increasing family disintegration (black men not marrying) that black children have experienced since 1970.

The NYT journalists are much more circumspect than their editors in drawing conclusions:

“African-Americans made up about 35 percent of all children raised in the bottom 1 percent of the income distribution. They made up less than 1 percent of the children at the very top. This picture captures both a source of racial inequality and a consequence of it. White children are more likely to start life with economic advantages. But we now know that even when they start with the same advantages as black children, white boys still fare better, only reinforcing the disparities seen here.”

But one aspect they left out: when you factor in marriage and family, Black children, on average, do not start life with the same advantages.

Here is what is really going on in large measure: Marital chaos has increased massively in the Black family over the last eighty years, and especially since the sexual revolution. Nobel Laureat Akerlof has published a study at Brookings Institute on this in 1996. Daniel Patrick Moynihan warned about it in 1965 The Negro Family: The Case For National Action, known as the Moynihan Report. (He was vilified for daring to do this report when he was Assistant Secretary of Labor).

The data is incontrovertible. Here is what has happened to Black children since 1940.

Worse still the weakening of human and social capital is compounded over the generations.

Who is to blame? If you want to find blame… One major culprit is the National Organization of Women who very deliberately and vociferously set out to remove men from their families. Nowhere have they succeeded as they have in the Black Family. Yet they and their allies reign supreme in one major political party (and have many friends in the other).

Though no ethnic group is in the “saints” category, Black men and women have the worst track record at getting married and staying married.

Public policy is no great help here: You don’t go to government for love, especially not the tough love that marriage requires.

The Black Church is no help here either. I have addressed Black pastors’ meetings and discussed this with them. They agree. If they speak about marriage teaching what Moses taught, what their grandfathers and great grandfathers taught, and especially what Christ taught (they are Christian pastors) — they would lose their income! Many in their congregations would seek an easier pastor who would not upset the apple cart.

Is this racism? When black adults embrace family chaos? Most people would say they don’t choose it to be so and given their upbringing and early childhood experience within their families there is a lot of truth in that. You cannot choose what you do not experience many would say. But in this discussion, this does not hold. Many people who have not experienced being rich choose to be so and put in the massive effort to pull it off. Are black children urged to make it to the top? In school, in college, at church, by politicians, by the media, by student groups?

Does the same urging and encouragement happen on marriage? Look again at the abysmal rates of marriage among rich Black parents…. It is lower that poor white parents at the bottom of in income scale!

It is not easy to work a way out of cultural weakness. Without a pathway, leadership, and support it is impossible.

It does not take long to go from order to chaos — in anything. It takes a lot longer to go from chaos to order— in everything.

Getting to good kids who turn into strong adults requires the tough, suffering of marriage. Why “the suffering of marriage” — because if marriage was nothing but the effervescence of romance everyone would stay married forever. Learning to live with another, year after year, decade after decade is tough work. It makes for tough character… the requirement for moving up the income scale, staying there and holding onto it.

I pray that Black leaders (in church, in public school education, in the media, in Hollywood, in politics, in student associations, in the academy) stand up together and help each other say what needs to be said and— even more — do the long hard work of rebuilding Black marriages one at a time, generation after generation.

I hope the New York Times team (who were very prudent in their conclusion[2]) will continue their analysis and give us another treat in Upshot, this time including the variables of always-intact-marriage to permit us to analyze the data that way. I bet it will yield much clarity.

Racism has some influence, no doubt, but it is nothing compared to the weakening of black children visited upon them by the absence of marriage, by the absence of their biological fathers.[3] Marriage was one of the great strengths that have not been passed down to them by their parents, pastors and teachers. It used to be there.

Remove the chaos in parent’s marriage and children thrive — no matter the racial group. Leave the marital conflict unattended and the children wilt. Compound it over generations and the situation only gets worse. This is not racism. This is human nature.

For the good of the child – and the black child, the future of America,

Pat Fagan

Director of MARRI

[1] The title and the red inserts in the chart are my own, they are not part of the NYT original chart.

[2] “The research makes clear that there is something unique about the obstacles black males face. The gap between Hispanics and whites is narrower, and their incomes will converge within a couple of generations if mobility stays the same. Asian-Americans earn more than whites raised at the same income level, or about the same when first-generation immigrants are excluded. Only Native Americans have an income gap comparable to African-Americans. But the disparities are widest for black boys.”

[3] Though stepfathers are great and needed even they cannot (on average) cannot have the same impact as the married biological father. Again this is not a racist finding: it holds across ethnic groups. It is a human thing.

*An earlier Faith and Family Findings has more material related to this issue.

 

Intergenerational Links to Marital Happiness: Religious Attendance

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This chart is taken from a study conducted by Visiting Fellow Althea Nagai for Family Research Council.

Adults who frequently attended religious services as adolescents experience higher levels of marital happiness.

According to the General Social Survey (GSS), 64.3 percent of married adults who attended religious services at least monthly as adolescents were very happy with their current marriage, compared to 58 percent of married adults who attended worship less than monthly as adolescents.[1]

Other Studies

Though this adolescent religious attendance/marital happiness correlation study is the first of its kind, several other studies, national and international, demonstrate that continued religious attendance within marriage also contributes to marital happiness. Vaughn Call and Tim Heaton of Brigham Young University reported that of all “the dimensions of religious experience, [religious] attendance has the greatest impact on marital stability.”[2]

Annette Mahoney and colleagues at Bowling Green State University also “found better marital functioning to be generally associated with more joint religious activities between couples.”[3]

In a study of Turkish citizens, Olga Hünler and Tülin Gençöz of the Middle East Technical University reported that “religiousness was significantly associated with marital satisfaction.”[4]

A study of Belgian residents by Jose Orathinkal and Alfons Vansteenwegen of the Catholic University of Leuven also found that there is a “positive association between marital stability and religiosity.”[5]

As the data indicate, frequent religious attendance, in adolescence and in adulthood, is a predictor of marital bliss.

Patrick F. Fagan, Ph.D. & Althea Nagai, Ph.D.

Dr. Fagan is senior fellow and director of the Center for Family and Religion at Family Research Council. Dr. Nagai is a visiting fellow at Family Research Council.

[1] This chart draws on data collected by the General Social Survey, 1972-2006. From 1972 to 1993, the sample size averaged 1,500 each year. No GSS was conducted in 1979, 1981, or 1992. Since 1994, the GSS has been conducted only in even-numbered years and uses two samples per GSS that total approximately 3,000. In 2006, a third sample was added for a total sample size of 4,510.

[2] Vaughn R. A. Call and Tim B. Heaton, “Religious Influence on Marital Stability,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, vol. 36 (1997): 382-392.

[3] Annette Mahoney, et al., “Marriage and the Spiritual Realm: The Role of Proximal and Distal Religious Constructs in Marital Functioning,” Journal of Family Psychology, vol. 13 (1999): 321-338.

[4] Olga Hunler and Tulin Gencoz, “The Effect of Religiousness on Marital Satisfaction: Testing the Mediator Role of Marital Problem Solving between Religiousness and Marital Satisfaction Relationship,” Contemporary Family Therapy, vol. 27 (2005): 123-136.

[5] Jose Orathinkal and Alfons Vansteenwegen, “Religiosity and Marital Satisfaction,” Contemporary Family Therapy, vol. 28 (2006): 497-504.

Intergenerational Links to Marital Happiness: Family Structure

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This chart is taken from a study conducted by Visiting Fellow Althea Nagai for Family Research Council.

Adults who grew up living with both biological parents experience higher levels of marital happiness.

According to the General Social Survey (GSS), 65 percent of married adults who lived in an intact family as adolescents were very happy with their current marriage, compared to 60 percent of married adults who lived in a non-intact family.[1]

Other Studies

Several divorce studies corroborate the import of these findings. Paul Amato of the Pennsylvania State University and Danelle DeBoer of the University of Nebraska reported a causal relationship between the instability of parents’ marriages and their children’s marriages. They found that “coming from a divorced family of origin increases the risk of seeing one’s own marriage end in divorce.”[2]

Nicholas Wolfinger of the University of Utah also reported that “[m]arriages between the children of divorce are even more likely to fail than are unions involving just one spouse from a divorced family of origin.”[3]

Timothy Biblarz and Greg Gottainer of the University of Southern California found that the general happiness levels of adults who lived with two biological parents were similar to those who lived with widowed single mothers. Both categories, though, scored “substantially higher than those of children from divorced single-mother families.”[4]

The data clearly show that an intact married family, unmarred by divorce, offers children the best chance for marital happiness.

Patrick F. Fagan, Ph.D. & Althea Nagai, Ph.D.

Dr. Fagan is senior fellow and director of the Center for Family and Religion at Family Research Council. Dr. Nagai is a visiting fellow at Family Research Council.

[1] This chart draws on data collected by the General Social Survey, 1972-2006. From 1972 to 1993, the sample size averaged 1,500 each year. No GSS was conducted in 1979, 1981, or 1992. Since 1994, the GSS has been conducted only in even-numbered years and uses two samples per GSS that total approximately 3,000. In 2006, a third sample was added for a total sample size of 4,510.

[2] Paul R. Amato and Danelle D. DeBoer, “The Transmission of Marital Instability across Generations: Relationship Skills or Commitment to Marriage?” Journal of Marriage and Family, vol. 63 (2001): 1,038-1,051.

[3] Nicholas H. Wolfinger, “Family Structure Homogamy: The Effects of Parental Divorce on Partner Selection and Marital Stability,” Social Science Research, vol. 32 (2003): 80-97.

[4] Timothey Biblarz and Greg Gottainer, “Family Structure and Children’s Success: A Comparison of Widowed and Divorced Single-Mother Families,” Journal of Marriage and the Family, vol. 62 (2000): 533-548.

Intergenerational Links to Marital Happiness: Religious Attendance and Family Structure

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This chart is taken from a study conducted by Visiting Fellow Althea Nagai for Family Research Council.

Adults who frequently attended religious services as adolescents and grew up living with both biological parents experience higher levels of marital happiness.

According to the General Social Survey (GSS), 65 percent of married adults who attended religious services at least monthly and lived in an intact family as adolescents were very happy with their current marriage, compared to 53 percent of married adults who attended religious services less than monthly and lived in a non-intact family as adolescents. In between were those married adults who had attended religious services at least monthly but lived in a non-intact family (59 percent) and those who lived in an intact family but attended religious services less than monthly (also 59 percent). [1]

Other Studies

Several other studies corroborate the direction of these findings. Paul Amato and Alan Booth of the Pennsylvania State University reported that strong parental religiosity led to fewer instances of parental marital discord and “that parents’ marital quality has a causal impact on offspring’s marital quality.” [2]

W. Bradford Wilcox also found that husbands who believed strongly in religious attendance and the importance of intact families had wives who reported high levels of marital happiness. [3]

The data indicate that the benefits of frequent religious attendance and the intactness of parents’ marriages will positively effect marital happiness in adulthood.

Patrick F. Fagan, Ph.D. & Althea Nagai, Ph.D.

Dr. Fagan is senior fellow and director of the Center for Family and Religion at Family Research Council. Dr. Nagai is a visiting fellow at Family Research Council.

[1] This chart draws on data collected by the General Social Survey, 1972-2006. From 1972 to 1993, the sample size averaged 1,500 each year. No GSS was conducted in 1979, 1981, or 1992. Since 1994, the GSS has been conducted only in even-numbered years and uses two samples per GSS that total approximately 3,000. In 2006, a third sample was added for a total sample size of 4,510.

[2] Paul R. Amato and Alan Booth, “The Legacy of Parents’ Marital Discord: Consequences for Children’s Marital Quality,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 81 (2001): 627-638.

[3] W. Bradford Wilcox, Soft Patriarchs, New Men: How Christianity Shapes Fathers and Husbands (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 178, 186. This finding is from www.familyfacts.org.

Quality of Parent-Child Relationship and Religious Attendance

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This chart is taken from a study conducted by Nicholas Zill, Ph.D.[1] for Family Research Council.[2]

Children who attend worship at least weekly have a higher-quality relationship with their parents than those who worship less frequently.

According to the National Survey of Children’s Health, children who attend religious services at least weekly score higher on the positive parental relationship scale (50.7) than children who never attend religious services (48.4). In between are children who worship one to three times a month (49.5) and children who attend religious services less than once a month (49.8).

Other Studies

Though the results of some related studies are mixed and inconclusive, several other studies corroborate the small, but statistically significant, direction of these findings. Lisa Pearce of the Pennsylvania State University and William Axinn of the University of Michigan found that religiosity “has significant positive effects on mothers’ and children’s reports of the quality of their relationships.”[3]

In a study of 203 students at Uppsala University in Sweden, Pehr Granqvist of Uppsala University reported that students with a secure parental relationship scored higher on such variables as “Level of Religiousness” and “Relationship with God” than those who had insecure parental relationships.[4]

Though further research might prove more illuminating, available data indicate that religiosity and frequent religious attendance correlate, albeit slightly, with higher-quality parent-child relationships.

Nicholas Zill, Ph.D.
Research Psychologist
Former Vice President of Westat
Founding President of Child Trends

[1] Nicholas Zill is a research psychologist and consultant. Until his recent retirement, he was a vice president of Westat Inc. He was the founder of Child Trends and its executive director for 13 years.

[2] This chart draws on data collected by the National Center for Health Statistics in the National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH) in 2003. The data sample consisted of parents of 102,353 children and teens in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. 68,996 of these children and teens were between six and 17 years old, the age group that was the focus of the study. The survey sample in this age range represented a population of nearly 49 million young people nationwide.

[3] Lisa D. Pearce and William G. Axinn, “The Impact of Family Religious Life on the Quality of Mother-Child Relations,” American Sociological Review, vol. 63 (1998): 810-828.

[4] Pehr Granqvist, “Religiousness and Perceived Childhood Attachment-On the Question of Compensation or Correspondence,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, vol. 37 (1998): 350-367.

Quality of Parent-Child Relationship and Family Structure

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This chart is taken from a study conducted by Nicholas Zill, Ph.D.[1] for Family Research Council.[2]

Children who live with both biological parents or two adoptive parents are likely to have a higher quality relationship with their parents than those who do not.

According to the National Survey of Children’s Health, children who live with both biological parents or two adoptive parents score higher on the positive parental relationship scale (50.7) than children who live within other family configurations (47.9), such as with their father only or foster parents.[3] In between are those who live with a biological parent and a stepparent (48.0) and those who live with single mothers (49.7).[4]

Other Studies

Several other studies not only corroborate the direction of these findings but also emphasize the importance of parental marriage in the quality of parent-child relationships. Sandra Hofferth of the University of Maryland and Kermyt Anderson of the University of Oklahoma “found evidence to support the view that marriage per se confers advantage in terms of father involvement above and beyond the characteristics of the fathers themselves, whereas biology does not.”[5]

Alan Booth and Paul Amato of the Pennsylvania State University also reported that “parental divorce appeared to lower the quality of [children’s] relations with parents.”[6]

In an examination of adult child-parent relations, Diane Lye of the University of Washington found that “divorced fathers are less likely to be in contact with their children, are less likely to be emotionally close to their children, and are less likely to be involved in exchanges of assistance with their children.”[7]

As the data indicate, married intact families cultivate the highest quality parent-child relationships.

Nicholas Zill, Ph.D.
Research Psychologist
Former Vice President of Westat
Founding President of Child Trends

[1] Nicholas Zill is a research psychologist and consultant. Until his recent retirement, he was a vice president of Westat Inc. He was the founder of Child Trends and its executive director for 13 years.

[2] This chart draws on data collected by the National Center for Health Statistics in the National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH) in 2003. The data sample consisted of parents of 102,353 children and teens in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. 68,996 of these children and teens were between six and 17 years old, the age group that was the focus of the study. The survey sample in this age range represented a population of nearly 49 million young people nationwide.

[3] “Other family configurations” also include children living with grandparent or other relatives.

[4] Most of the parents in the “biological parent and a stepparent” category are married.

[5] Sandra L. Hofferth and Kermyt G. Anderson, “Are All Dads Equal? Biology versus Marriage as a Basis for Parental Investment,” Journal of Marriage and Family, vol. 65 (2003): 213-232.

[6] Alan Booth and Paul R. Amato, “Parental Predivorce Relations and Offspring Postdivorce Well-Being,” Journal of Marriage and Family, vol. 63 (2001): 197-212.

[7] Diane N. Lye, “Adult Child-Parent Relationships,” Annual Review of Sociology, vol. 22 (1996): 79-102.

Quality of Parent-Child Relationship, Religious Attendance, and Family Structure

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This chart is taken from a study conducted by Nicholas Zill, Ph.D.[1] for Family Research Council.[2]

Children from intact families who frequently attend worship are most likely to have a high-quality relationship with their parents.

This chart depicts the mean positive parental relationship score of children aged 6 to 17, correlated with religious attendance and family structure. Children who worship frequently and live with both biological parents or with two adoptive parents have a higher score (50.9) than those who worship less than monthly and live in single-parent or reconstituted families (47.5). In between are those who live in intact families and worship less than monthly (49.7) and those who live in non-intact families who worship at least monthly (49.7). The data are taken from the National Survey of Children’s Health.

The stress of marital conflict and separation, and the strains of maintaining a household and rearing children as a single parent, often interfere with the task of interacting with children in a calm, positive, yet firm and authoritative manner.[3]

On the other hand, when parents and children are involved in a religious community, other members of the community and their children provide emotional support and practical assistance to the family and make it easier for parents to raise their children. Members of a religious community also reinforce the moral and spiritual lessons that parents try to impart to their children.[4]

Other Studies

Several other sources corroborate the direction of these findings. John Bartkowski of Mississippi State University and W. Bradford Wilcox of Princeton University reported that single parents “are more likely to yell” at their children and that conservative Protestant parents are less likely to do so.[5]

W. Jean Yeung of the University of Michigan and colleagues also found that fathers in intact families devote more time to their children and that most of the “social activity” time fathers spend with their children consists of religious activities.[6]

As the data indicate, religious attendance, religiosity, and intact families are building blocks of healthy parent-child relationships.

Nicholas Zill, Ph.D.
Research Psychologist
Former Vice President of Westat
Founding President of Child Trends

[1] Nicholas Zill is a research psychologist and consultant. Until his recent retirement, he was a vice president of Westat Inc. He was the founder of Child Trends and its executive director for 13 years.

[2] This chart draws on data collected by the National Center for Health Statistics in the National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH) in 2003. The data sample consisted of parents of 102,353 children and teens in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. 68,996 of these children and teens were between six and 17 years old, the age group that was the focus of the study. The survey sample in this age range represented a population of nearly 49 million young people nationwide.

[3] Paul R. Amato, “The Consequences of Divorce for Adults and Children,” vol. 62 (2000): 1,269-1,287.

[4] E. Mavis Hetherington and John Kelly, For Better or For Worse: Divorce Reconsidered (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2002): 75-76.

[5] John P. Bartkowski and W. Bradford Wilcox, “Conservative Protestant Child Discipline: The Case of Parental Yelling,” Social Forces, vol. 79 (2000): 265-290.

[6] W. Jean Yeung, et al., “Children’s Time with Fathers in Intact Families,” Journal of Marriage and Family, vol. 63 (2001): 136-154.

Intergenerational Links to Happiness: Religious Attendance

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This chart is taken from a study conducted by Visiting Fellow Althea Nagai for Family Research Council.

Adults who frequently attended religious services as adolescents are more likely to be very happy than those who did not.

According to the General Social Survey (GSS), 34.1 percent of adults who attended religious services at least monthly as adolescents considered themselves very happy, compared to 28.9 percent of adults who attended worship less than monthly as adolescents.[1]

Other Studies

Though no related studies, to the best of our knowledge, have been conducted on intergenerational links between adolescent religious attendance and adult happiness, there are several studies that demonstrate a contemporaneous connection between religious attendance and happiness. Rajeev Dehejia of Tufts University and colleagues reported that religious attendance provides happiness insurance against a sudden loss in income. Specifically, “active religious participation buffers about two thirds of the reduction in happiness from a negative income shock.”[2]

In an examination of 101 undergraduate students, Sarah French and Stephen Joseph of the University of Essex also found evidence that “religiosity is associated with happiness.”[3]

Though few studies have been conducted in this area, the available evidence indicates a significant association between religious attendance and happiness.

Patrick F. Fagan, Ph.D. & Althea Nagai, Ph.D.

Dr. Fagan is senior fellow and director of the Center for Family and Religion at Family Research Council. Dr. Nagai is a visiting fellow at Family Research Council.

[1] This chart draws on data collected by the General Social Survey, 1972-2006. From 1972 to 1993, the sample size averaged 1,500 each year. No GSS was conducted in 1979, 1981, or 1992. Since 1994, the GSS has been conducted only in even-numbered years and uses two samples per GSS that total approximately 3,000. In 2006, a third sample was added for a total sample size of 4,510.

[2] Rajeev Dehejia, et al., “Insuring Consumption and Happiness through Religious Organizations,” Journal of Public Economics, vol. 91 (2007): 259-279.

[3] Sarah French and Stephen Joseph, ‘Religiosity and Its Association with Happiness, Purpose in Life, and Self-Actualization,” Mental Health, Religion & Culture, vol. 2 (1999): 117-120.

Intergenerational Links to Happiness: Family Structure

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This chart is taken from a study conducted by Visiting Fellow Althea Nagai for Family Research Council.

Adults who grew up living with both biological parents are more likely to be very happy than those who did not.

According to the General Social Survey (GSS), 34 percent of adults who lived in an intact family as adolescents considered themselves very happy, compared to 26 percent of those who lived in a non-intact family.[1]

Other Studies

Very little additional research has been conducted on the correlation between family structure during adolescence and adult happiness, but there are several studies that corroborate the direction of these findings. In a study of male British adolescents, Eirini Flouri and Ann Buchanan of the University of Oxford found “a positive relationship between father involvement and life satisfaction” and that “[b]oys from intact families tended to be happier than those living otherwise.”[2]

Timothy Biblarz and Greg Gottainer of the University of Southern California also reported that adults from “single-mother homes produced by parental divorce…have a significantly lower level of general psychological well-being (or feeling of happiness)” than those who lived with both biological parents.[3]

As the available evidence indicates, adolescents who grow up in intact families are more likely to lead happier lives, as adolescents and as adults.

Patrick F. Fagan, Ph.D. & Althea Nagai, Ph.D.

Dr. Fagan is senior fellow and director of the Center for Family and Religion at Family Research Council. Dr. Nagai is a visiting fellow at Family Research Council.

[1] This chart draws on data collected by the General Social Survey, 1972-2006. From 1972 to 1993, the sample size averaged 1,500 each year. No GSS was conducted in 1979, 1981, or 1992. Since 1994, the GSS has been conducted only in even-numbered years and uses two samples per GSS that total approximately 3,000. In 2006, a third sample was added for a total sample size of 4,510.

[2] Eirini Flouri and Ann Buchanan, “Life Satisfaction in Teenage Boys: The Moderating Role of Father Involvement and Bullying,” Aggressive Behavior, vol. 28 (2002): 126-133.

[3] Timothy J. Biblarz and Greg Gottainer, “Family Structure and Children’s Success: A Comparison of Widowed and Divorced Single-Mother Families,” Journal of Marriage and the Family, vol. 62 (2000): 533-548.

Intergenerational Links to Happiness: Religious Attendance and Family Structure

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This chart is taken from a study conducted by Visiting Fellow Althea Nagai for Family Research Council.

Adults who frequently attended religious services as adolescents and grew up living with both biological parents are most likely to be very happy.

According to the General Social Survey (GSS), 35 percent of adults who attended religious services at least monthly and lived in an intact family through adolescence considered themselves very happy, compared to 23 percent of adults who attended religious services less than monthly and lived in a non-intact family as adolescents. In between were those who had attended religious services at least monthly but lived in a non-intact family (26 percent) and those who lived in an intact family but attended religious services less than monthly (30 percent).[1]

The combination of frequent religious attendance during adolescence and an intact family background clearly increases the likelihood of being very happy in adulthood. The data indicate, however, that family structure may have a more pronounced effect than religious attendance.

Other Studies

Very few studies have examined contemporaneous effects of both religious attendance and family structure on happiness, let alone intergenerational effects, but these studies generally support the direction of these findings. Arthur Brooks of Syracuse University reported that while “practicing a religion makes people very happy, on average,” married people are “nearly twice as likely as singles” to report being very happy.[2]

In a study of Caribbean adolescents, Robert Blum of the University of Minnesota and colleagues found that adolescents who report having religious beliefs and connectedness with their parents are less likely to experience rage.[3]

Though the evidence demonstrates that an intact family may have a greater influence than religiosity on the likelihood of being very happy, the combination of frequent religious attendance and an intact family yields the highest proportion of very happy people, as adolescents and adults.

Patrick F. Fagan, Ph.D. & Althea Nagai, Ph.D.

Dr. Fagan is senior fellow and director of the Center for Family and Religion at Family Research Council. Dr. Nagai is a visiting fellow at Family Research Council.

[1] This chart draws on data collected by the General Social Survey, 1972-2006. From 1972 to 1993, the sample size averaged 1,500 each year. No GSS was conducted in 1979, 1981, or 1992. Since 1994, the GSS has been conducted only in even-numbered years and uses two samples per GSS that total approximately 3,000. In 2006, a third sample was added for a total sample size of 4,510.

[2] Arthur Brooks, Gross National Happiness (New York: Basic Books, 2008): 28, 30, 217, 227.

[3] Robert Blum, et al., “Adolescent Health in the Caribbean: Risk and Protective Factors,” American Journal of Public Health, vol. 93 (2003): 456-460.