Journal of Religion and Health

, Volume 58, Issue 1, pp 206–220 | Cite as

Religion, Nonreligion, and Deviance: Comparing Faith’s and Family’s Relative Strength in Promoting Social Conformity

  • Whitney DeCampEmail author
  • Jesse M. Smith
Original Paper


The view that religion, as a source of moral guidance and social support, can function to prevent or protect individuals, especially children and adolescents, from a range of deviant and delinquent behaviors is largely (but not completely) born out in the literature. In nations with strong religious identities such as the USA, there is a normative expectation that adolescents who identify with religion are less likely to engage in deviant behavior than those who claim no religion. The present study explores this issue using data from over 10,000 American middle school and high school youth to examine the relationship between religion, nonreligion, and various forms of deviance. Results indicate that youth who identify with a religious (rather than nonreligious) label are not less likely to be involved in deviant acts after controlling for protective factors. The effects from some of these protective factors are significant and stronger than the effects from religion.


Religion Nonreligion Atheism Deviance Adolescence 



The data used in this research were collected by the University of Delaware Center for Drug and Health Studies as part of a study supported by the Delaware Health Fund and by the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health, Delaware Health and Social Services. The authors wish to thank the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

DeCamp and Smith declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Human and Animal Rights Statement

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyWestern Michigan UniversityKalamazooUSA

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