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Parental Divorce, Parental Religious Characteristics, and Religious Outcomes in Adulthood


  • Acknowledgments: This article was originally drafted for the “Does the Shape of Families Shape Faith?” conference. The authors acknowledge the conference participants and the anonymous JSSR reviewers for their helpful comments.

Jeremy E. Uecker, Department of Sociology, Baylor University, One Bear Place #97326, Waco, TX 76798 USA. E-mail:


Parental divorce has been linked to religious outcomes in adulthood. Previous research, however, has not adequately accounted for parental religious characteristics, which may render the association spurious and/or moderate the relationship. Many studies also do not consider subsequent family context, namely, whether one's custodial parent remarries. Using pooled data from three waves of the General Social Survey, we examine the nature of the relationships among parental divorce, subsequent family structure, and religiosity in adulthood. Growing up in a single-parent family—but not a stepparent family—is positively associated with religious disaffiliation and religious switching and negatively associated with regular religious service attendance. Accounting for parental religious characteristics, however, explains sizable proportions of these relationships. In fact, after accounting for parental religious affiliation and service attendance, growing up with a single parent does not have a significant effect on religious service attendance. Parental religiosity also moderates the relationship between growing up with a single parent and religious service attendance: being raised in a single-parent home does have a negative effect on religious service attendance among adults who had two religiously involved parents. There is modest evidence of this moderating relationship for other religious outcomes. Implications of these findings are discussed.