The Journal of Primary Prevention

, Volume 34, Issue 5, pp 329–343 | Cite as

Adolescents’ Religious Discordance with Mothers: Is There a Connection to Sexual Risk Behavior During Emerging Adulthood?

  • Jennifer M. GrossmanEmail author
  • Allison J. Tracy
  • Anne E. Noonan
Original Paper


This study longitudinally investigates the relationship between adolescent/mother religious discordance and emerging adult sexual risk-taking 6–7 years later. We used Social Control Theory to examine the level and direction of concordance using data from Wave I and Wave III of the Add Health Study, focusing on constructs of religious importance, frequency of prayer, and attendance at religious services. We found that higher levels of adolescent/mother discordance in religious importance were related to increased emerging adult sexual risk-taking compared to those with similar levels adolescent/mother religiosity, but this occurred only when mothers reported higher levels of religious importance than their children. In contrast, adolescents reporting higher frequency of prayer than their mothers reported lower levels of sexual risk-taking than those with similar frequency of adolescent/mother prayer. These findings suggest that the protective effects of family religious socialization can be interrupted. However, this influence of religious difference on sexual risk-behavior operates differently depending on the direction and level of religious difference. Even in emerging adulthood, a period marked by distance from childhood values and institutions, religious difference with a parent remains a meaningful influence.


Religiosity Religious discordance Sexual risk-taking Family Adolescence Emerging adulthood 



This publication was supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development of the National Institutes of Health under Grant number R03HD057572-01. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health. This research uses data from Add Health, a program project designed by J. Richard Udry, Peter S. Bearman, and Kathleen Mullan Harris, and funded by a Grant P01-HD31921 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, with cooperative funding from 17 other agencies. Special acknowledgment is due to Ronald R. Rindfuss and Barbara Entwisle for assistance in the original design. Persons interested in obtaining data files from Add Health should contact No direct support was received from Grant P01-HD31921 for this analysis. Thanks to the Ineke Ceder and the WCW Writing Group for their edits and support.


  1. Arnett, J. J. (2000). Emerging adulthood: A theory of development from the late teens through the twenties. American Psychologist, 55, 469–480.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Arnett, J. J. (2001). Conceptions of the transition to adulthood: Perspectives from adolescence through midlife. Journal of Adult Development, 8, 133–143. doi: 10.1023/A:1026450103225.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Arnett, J. J. (2007). Emerging adulthood: What is it, and what is it good for? Child Development Perspectives, 1, 68–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bakan, D. (1966). The duality of human existence. Chicago: Rand McNally.Google Scholar
  5. Bartkowski, J. P., Xu, X., & Levin, M. L. (2008). Religion and child development: Evidence from the early childhood longitudinal study. Social Science Research, 37, 18–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bowen, M. (1978). Family therapy in clinical practice. New York, NY: Jason Aronson.Google Scholar
  7. Bowlby, J. (1979). The making and breaking of affectional bonds. London: Tavistock Publications.Google Scholar
  8. Boyatzis, C. J., Dollahite, D., & Marks, L. (2006). The family as a context for religious and spiritual development in children and youth. In E. C. Roehlkepartain, P. E. King, L. Wagener, & P. Benson (Eds.), Handbook of spiritual development in childhood and adolescence (pp. 297–309). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2009). Sexually transmitted disease surveillance 2009. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.Google Scholar
  10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2010). Sexually transmitted disease surveillance 2009. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.Google Scholar
  11. Chantala, K., Kalsbeek, W. D., & Andraca, E. (2004). Nonresponse in Wave III of the Add Health Study. Retrieved from
  12. Coleman, J. S. (1988). Social capital in the creation of human capital. American Journal of Sociology, 94(Suppl), S95–S120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Crespo, C., Kielpikowski, M., Pryor, J., & Jose, P. E. (2011). Family rituals in New Zealand families: Links to family cohesion and adolescents’ well-being. Journal of Family Psychology, 25, 184–193. doi: 10.1037/a0023113.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Davies, P. T., & Lindsay, L. L. (2001). Does gender moderate the effects of marital conflict on children? In J. Grych & F. Fincham (Eds.), Child development and interparental conflict (pp. 64–97). New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Davies, P. T., & Lindsay, L. L. (2004). Interparental conflict and adolescent adjustment: Why does gender moderate early adolescent vulnerability? Journal of Family Psychology, 18(1), 160–170. doi: 10.1037/0893-3200.18.1.160.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. De Coster, S., & Kort-Butler, L. A. (2006). How general is general strain theory? Assessing determinacy and indeterminacy across life domains. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 43, 1–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Edwards, L. M., Fehring, R. J., Jarrett, K. M., & Haglund, K. A. (2008). The influence of religiosity, gender, and language preference acculturation on sexual activity among Latino/a adolescents. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 30, 447–462.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Ellison, C. G., & Levin, J. S. (1998). The religion-health connection: Evidence, theory, and future directions. Health Education and Behavior, 25, 700–720.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Ferguson, D. M., & Woodward, L. J. (2000). Educational, psychosocial, and sexual outcomes of girls with conduct problems in early adolescence. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Discipline, 41, 779–792.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Fincham, F. D., Beach, S. R. H., Lambert, N., Stillman, T., & Braithwaite, S. R. (2008). Spiritual behaviors and relationship satisfaction: A critical analysis of the role of prayer. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 27, 362–388.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Fosco, G. M., Caruthers, A. S., & Dishion, T. J. (2012). A six-year predictive test of adolescent family relationship quality and effortful control pathways to emerging adult social and emotional health. Journal of Family Psychology, 26(4), 565–575. doi: 10.1037/a0028873.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Harris, K. M., Halpern, C. T., Whitsel, E., Hussey, J., Tabor, J., Entzel, P., & Udry, J. R. (2009). The national longitudinal study of adolescent health: Research design. Retrieved from
  23. Helgeson, V. S. (1994). Relation of agency and communion to well-being: Evidence and potential explanations. Psychological Bulletin, 116, 412–428.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Henrich, C. C., Brookmeyer, K. A., Shrier, L. A., & Shahar, G. (2006). Supportive relationships and sexual risk behavior in adolescence: An ecological-transactional approach. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 31, 286–297.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Hirschi, T. (1969). The causes of delinquency. Berkeley: The University of California Press.Google Scholar
  26. Holder, D. W., Durant, R. H., Harris, T. L., Daniel, J. H., Obeidallah, D., & Goodman, E. (2000). The association between adolescent spirituality and voluntary sexual activity. Journal of Adolescent Health, 26, 295–302.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kaye, K., Moore, K. A., Hair, E. C., Hadley, A. M., Day, R. D., & Orthner, D. K. (2009). Parent marital quality and the parent-adolescent relationship: Effects on sexual activity among adolescents and youth. Marriage and Family Review, 45, 270–288.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Kelly, A. B., Toumbourou, J. W., O’Flaherty, M., Patton, G. C., Homel, R., Connor, J. P., et al. (2011). Family relationship quality and early alcohol use: Evidence for gender-specific risk processes. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 72(3), 399–407.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Kim, J., McCullough, M. E., & Cicchetti, D. (2009). Parents’ and children’s religiosity and child behavioral adjustment among maltreated and nonmaltreated children. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 18, 594–605.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. King, P. E., & Roeser, R. W. (2009). Religion and spirituality in adolescent development. In R. M. Lerner & L. Steinberg (Eds.), Handbook of adolescent psychology, Vol 1: Individual bases of adolescent development (3rd ed.). (pp. 435-478). Hoboken, NJ US: John Wiley & Sons Inc.Google Scholar
  31. Kort-Butler, L. A. (2009). Coping styles and sex differences in depressive symptoms and delinquent behavior. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 38, 122–136.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Kuortti, M., & Kosunen, E. (2009). Risk-taking behaviour is more frequent in teenage girls with multiple sexual partners. Scandinavian Journal of Primary Health Care, 27, 47–52.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Landor, A., Simons, L. G., Simons, R. L., Brody, G. H., & Gibbons, F. X. (2011). The role of religiosity in the relationship between parents, peers, and adolescent risky sexual behavior. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 40, 296–309.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Lefkowitz, E. S., Gillen, M. M., Shearer, C. L., & Boone, T. L. (2004). Religiosity, sexual behavior, and sexual attitudes during emerging adulthood. Journal of Sex Research, 41, 150–159.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Mahoney, A. (2005). Religion and conflict in marital and parent-child relationships. Journal of Social Issues, 61, 689–706.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Majumdar, D. (2006). Social support and risky sexual behavior among adolescents: The protective role of parents and best friends. Journal of Applied Sociology, 18, 28–43.Google Scholar
  37. Markiewicz, D., Lawford, H., Doyle, A. B., & Haggart, N. (2006). Developmental differences in adolescents’ and young adults’ use of mothers, fathers, best friends, and romantic partners to fulfill attachment needs. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 35, 127–140.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Marks, L. (2005). How does religion influence marriage? Christian, Jewish, Mormon, and Muslim perspectives. Marriage and Family Review, 38, 85–111.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. McCullough, M. E., & Willoughby, B. L. B. (2009). Religion, self-regulation, and self-control: Associations, explanations, and implications. Psychological Bulletin, 135, 69–93.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Meier, A. (2003). Adolescents’ transition to first intercourse, religiosity, and attitudes about sex. Social Forces, 81, 1031–1052.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Michael, R. T., Gagnon, J. H., Laumann, E. O., & Kolata, G. (1995). Sex in America: A definitive survey. Boston, MA: Little Brown.Google Scholar
  42. Miller, B. C., Norton, M. C., Curtis, T., Hill, E. J., Schvaneveldt, P., & Young, M. H. (1997). The timing of sexual intercourse among adolescents: Family, peer, and other antecedents. Youth and Society, 29, 54–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Muthén, L. K., & Muthén, B. O. (1998–2007). Mplus User’s Guide. Fifth edition. Los Angeles, CA: Muthén & Muthén.Google Scholar
  44. Myers, S. M. (2006). Religious homogamy and marital quality: Historical and generational patterns, 1980–1997. Journal of Marriage and Family, 68, 292–304.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. NIH. (2009). Contextual approaches to prevention of unintended pregnancy. Program Announcement PA-09-014. Retrieved from
  46. Nonnemaker, J. M., McNeely, C. A., & Blum, R. W. (2003). Public and private domains of religiosity and adolescent health risk behaviors: Evidence from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Social Science and Medicine, 57, 2049–2054.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Noonan, A., Tracy, A. J., & Grossman, J. M. (2012). Constructing profiles of religious agreement and disagreement between adolescents and mothers: A research note. Review of Religious Research, 54, 239–254.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Paradis, A. D., Giaconia, R. M., Reinherz, H. Z., Beardslee, W. R., Ward, K. E., & Fitzmaurice, G. M. (2011). Adolescent family factors promoting healthy adult functioning: A longitudinal community study. Child and Adolescent Mental Health, 16, 30–37.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Pearce, L. D., & Axinn, W. G. (1998). The impact of family religious life on the quality of mother-child relations. American Sociological Review, 63, 810–828.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Pearce, L. D., & Haynie, D. L. (2004). Intergenerational religious dynamics and adolescent delinquency. Social Forces, 82, 1553–1572.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Regnerus, M. D. (2003). Linked lives, faith, and behavior: An intergenerational model of religious influence on adolescent delinquency. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 42, 189–203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Rew, L., & Wong, Y. J. (2006). A systematic review of associations among religiosity/spirituality and adolescent health attitudes and behaviors. Journal of Adolescent Health, 38, 433–442.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Rohrbaugh, J., & Jessor, R. (1975). Religiosity in youth: A personal and social control against deviant behavior? Journal of Personality, 43, 136–155.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Rostosky, S. S., Wilcox, B. L., Comer Wright, M. L., & Randall, B. (2004). Religiosity as a predictor of adolescent sexual behavior: A review of the evidence. Journal of Adolescent Research, 19, 677–697.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Siebenbruner, J., Zimmer-Gembeck, M. J., & Egeland, B. (2007). Sexual partners and contraceptive use: A 16-year prospective study predicting abstinence and risk behavior. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 17, 170–206.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Sinha, J. W., Cnaan, R. A., & Gelles, R. J. (2007). Adolescent risk behaviors and religion: Findings from a national study. Journal of Adolescence, 30(2), 231–249. doi: 10.1016/j.adolescence.2006.02.005.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Skeer, M. R., McCormick, M. C., Normand, S.-L. T., Mimiaga, M. J., Buka, S. L., & Gilman, S. E. (2011). Gender differences in the association between family conflict and adolescent substance use disorders. Journal of Adolescent Health, 49(2), 187–192. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2010.12.003.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Stark, R., & Bainbridge, W. S. (1996). Religion, deviance, and social control. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  59. Stokes, C. E., & Regnerus, M. D. (2009). When faith divides family: Religious discord and adolescent reports of parent-child relations. Social Science Research, 38, 155–167.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Van Dyke, C. J., & Elias, M. J. (2007). How forgiveness, purpose, and religiosity are related to the mental health and well-being of youth: A review of the literature. Mental Health, Religion and Culture, 10, 395–415.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Zimmer-Gembeck, M. J., & Helfand, M. (2008). Ten years of longitudinal research on U.S. adolescent sexual behavior: The evidence for multiple pathways to sexual intercourse, and the importance of age, gender and ethnic background. Developmental Review, 28, 153–224.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jennifer M. Grossman
    • 1
    Email author
  • Allison J. Tracy
    • 1
  • Anne E. Noonan
    • 2
  1. 1.Wellesley Centers for WomenWellesley CollegeWellesleyUSA
  2. 2.Salem State UniversitySalemUSA

Personalised recommendations