The effects of parental death on religiosity within an American context

Authored by: Renae Wilkinson

The Routledge Handbook of Death and the Afterlife

Print publication date:  June  2018
Online publication date:  June  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138682160
eBook ISBN: 9781315545349
Adobe ISBN:


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Past research suggests that religion plays a role in how individuals cope with adverse experiences. The experience of parental death, however, has not been thoroughly explored for its effect on the bereaved child’s religiosity. To examine the effects of mother and father loss on child religiosity, I employ two longitudinal, nationally representative datasets: The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health) and the Midlife Development in the United States Study (MIDUS). A sequence of linear regression analyses reveals four conclusions about the relationship between the experience of parental death and religiosity. First, parental death is associated with higher average subjective indicators of religiosity in both datasets. Second, the death of a parent between survey waves affects increased prayer and religious salience in the Add Heath sample and decreased spirituality in the MIDUS sample. Third, experiencing parental death across stages in the life course is associated with higher levels of several indicators of religiosity, relative to non-bereaved men and women. Finally, gendered effects of parental death indicate that mother and father loss is associated with higher levels of religiosity for women, and lower levels of religiosity for men in both samples. These findings highlight relationships between parental death and religion, and how these associations differ by the gender of the deceased parent and bereaved child.

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