Religion, Families, and Health: Population-Based Research in the United States

Religion, Families, and Health: Population-Based Research in the United States

Religion, Families, and Health: Population-Based Research in the United States

Religion, Families, and Health: Population-Based Research in the United States

Synopsis

Religion is a major social institution in the United States. While the scientific community has experienced a resurgence in the idea that there are important linkages between religion and family life and religion and health outcomes, this area of study is still in its early stages of development, scattered across multiple disciplines, and of uneven quality. To date, no book has featured both reviews of the literature and new empirical findings that define this area for the present and set the agenda for the twenty-first century. Religion, Families, and Health fills this void by bringing together leading social scientists who provide a theoretically rich, methodologically rigorous, and exciting glimpse into a fascinating social institution that continues to be extremely important in the lives of Americans.

Excerpt

Christopher G. Ellison and Robert A. Hummer

Founded in part by immigrants searching for religious freedom, the United States remains a religious country by most conventional indicators (Sherkat and Ellison 1999). This social fact runs counter to the expectations of generations of social scientists, and is not fundamentally altered by the steady declines in weekly religious attendance that occurred during the latter half of the twentieth century (Presser and Chaves 2007), or by the modest growth of the “no religion” category in surveys of American adults (Hout and Fischer 2002; Sherkat, Chapter 20 of this volume). Indeed, recent data indicate that patterns of religious attendance have remained stable since approximately 1990 (Presser and Chaves 2007), and that many core Judeo-Christian religious beliefs retain widespread support among American adults. For example, roughly 60 percent of Americans claim to believe in God “without any doubts,” while only 10 percent unequivocally reject belief in God. Although less than one-third of Americans believe that the Bible is the literal Word of God, nearly four in five adults agree that this scripture is divinely inspired. Belief in an afterlife (of whatever sort) has increased steadily since the 1970s among Protestants, Catholics, and Jews, to approximately 80 percent of U.S. adults in 2006 (Hout and Greeley 1999; Davis, Smith, and Marsden 2006). Other survey data confirm that majorities of Americans continue to endorse Christian-influenced views about heaven and hell.

Beyond individual beliefs, organized religion also remains a vibrant institutional force in the contemporary United States. According to recent estimates, more than one-half of American adults claim to belong to a local religious congregation, and a much larger figure—nearly 85 percent—report a religious preference; that is, they identify with, or express an affinity for, an established religious community. General Social Survey (GSS) data indicate that 25–28 percent of U.S. adults identify themselves as Catholic, and a similar (or perhaps even slightly larger) percentage identify with Baptist or other conservative Protestant faiths (Davis, Smith, and Marsden 2006). Among the long list of . . .

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