Few things are more likely to cause heartache to devout parents than seeing their child leave the faith. And it seems, from media portrayals, that this is happening more and more frequently. But is religious change between generations common? How does religion get passed down from one generation to the next? Why do some families maintain one faith while others do not? What factors are likely to push people away from their childhood faith? What role does the particular faith play? The family? The wider society? Does atheism get passed down as well? In Families and Faith, Vern Bengtson seeks to answer these questions and more by drawing on an extraordinary study, conducted over more than four decades, of more than 350 families composed of more than 2400 people whose lives span more than a century: the oldest was born in 1881, the youngest in 1988. Bengtson argues that a child is actually more likely to remain within the fold than to leave it, and, more surprisingly, that parents' influence has remained relatively stable since the early 1970s. Even the nonreligious, in fact, are much more likely to be following their parents than rebelling against them.
And while outside social forces play a role, the most important factor in whether a child keeps the faith is the presence of a strong fatherly bond. Armed with this unprecedented data, Bengtson offers remarkable insight into American religion over the course of several decades.