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Changes in Religious Group Affiliation During Older Adulthood: Evidence from an 11-year Longitudinal Study

Abstract

Although older adults tend to be among the most religiously-involved groups of people, and are more likely to be affiliated with a religious group in comparison with their younger counterparts, very little is known about the extent to which older adults change their affiliations from one group to another, or what factors are associated with likelihood of changing religion during this part of the life span. This study uses longitudinal data covering a period of between 3 and 12 years from a survey of religion and health in older adults to describe changes in reported religious group affiliation and to examine the demographic and religious factors that predict these changes. The extent of change observed depended on how religious affiliation was coded. 69 % of older adults changed some element of their response regarding religious affiliation during the course of the study, but once responses were classified more broadly by religious tradition, the proportion changing was 27 %. There were also significant changes between Protestant denominations, and between specific organizations within Protestant denominations. Catholics and members of historically Black Protestant groups were less likely to change affiliations than Mainline Protestants or Conservative Protestants. Greater frequency of religious service attendance was related to lower likelihood of changing religious affiliation. Results indicate that religious affiliation change continues to occur in a significant proportion of individuals during the span of older adulthood, and that many of those who change tend to do so repeatedly.

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Acknowledgments

This research was supported in part by grants from the National Institute on Aging (R01 AG014749) and from the John Templeton Foundation (Grant 20887).

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Correspondence to R. David Hayward.

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Hayward, R.D., Krause, N. Changes in Religious Group Affiliation During Older Adulthood: Evidence from an 11-year Longitudinal Study. Rev Relig Res 56, 539–554 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13644-014-0151-8

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Keywords

  • Religious affiliation
  • Older adults
  • Conversion
  • Catholics
  • Protestants