The Religiosity of Mothers and Their Offspring as Related to the Offspring's Sex and Sexual Orientation

Article excerpt

Many attitudes have been found to correlate positively across generations (Payne, Summers, & Stewart, 1973; Tolor, 1976; Newport, 1979), including attitudes surrounding religion (Barclay & Sharp, 1982). However, a study by Hodge and Treiman (1968) reported that intergenerational transmission of religious attitudes was significant only in the case of mothers and their daughters, not their sons (fathers were not sampled). The present study was an attempt to replicate the Hodge and Treiman (1968) finding. In addition, it sought to determine not only if the offspring's sex is related to the intergenerational transmission of religiosity, but to assess the relevance of the offspring's sexual orientation as well.


Respondents consisted of 285 mothers and their offspring who completed anonymous questionnaires. They were recruited from various sources, but most (58%) were students at Minot State University and their mothers. Other sampling sources included members and relatives of members of two national support organizations, one for persons with lupus erythematosus (16%) and the other for parents of gays (13%). The remaining 13% of the mother-offspring pairs were obtained by solicitations at various meetings and through a mailing to approximately 1,500 persons whose names were listed in telephone directories of large cities located on both coasts and in the southern United States (to diminish the proportion of the sample from northern midwestern regions).

Mothers ranged in age from 36 to 77 years, with a mean of 51.5 (SD = 8.6). Offspring ranged in age from 19 to 50 years, with a mean of 25.5 (SD = 6.5). Nearly all of the mother-offspring pairs (98%) were Caucasian, and 56% of the offspring listed northern midwestern states as their place of birth, with the remainder distributed fairly evenly throughout the remaining United States.

Sexual orientation of offspring was determined by responses to a separate three-page questionnaire in which offspring were asked: "When imagining sexual relationships, what percentage of the time is the individual with whom you are interacting a member of the opposite sex? a member of the same sex?" The percentage of time respondents reported fantasizing about the same sex was used as the measure of sexual orientation. As a way of validating reported sexual orientation, offspring were also asked how many intimate sexual experiences they had had with members of the same sex and opposite sex. The proportion of their responses involving members of the same sex correlated strongly with their fantasizing about sexual interactions with the same sex (r = .90, p |is less than~ .001), thus indicating a substantial degree of validity for our sexual orientation measure (Ellis, Burke, & Ames, 1987).

For the present analysis, five groups of offspring were designated: (1) The heterosexual male sample consisted of 68 offspring who reported never fantasizing about sexual interactions with members of the same sex. (2) The bisexual male sample consisted of 14 offspring who reported fantasizing about members of the same sex between 1% and 99% of the time. (This is obviously a small sample, and, like the lesbian group below, one that must be regarded as very heterogeneous in terms of the extent of bisexuality.) (3) The homosexual male sample consisted of 39 offspring who reported fantasizing about members of the same sex exclusively. (4) The heterosexual female sample consisted of 136 offspring who said they had never fantasized about sexually interacting with members of their own sex. (5) The lesbian sample consisted of 28 offspring who reported that 1% to 100% of their sexual fantasies involved members of the same sex.

On both the mother's and offspring's forms, importance of religion was measured by the following question: "On a scale from 1 to 100, how important has religion been to your daily life in the past few years? (1 = not at all important, 100 = all important). …


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