Interrelations Between Religiosity, Mental Health, and Children

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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Sense of Purpose
Demography, Population, and Ecology
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This dissertation consists of three independent but related research articles dealing with religiosity, mental health, and children. The first uses the General Social Survey to perform the first large-N, non-convenience-sample analysis of the relationship between belief in God and sense of purpose. Using logistic regression analysis I find that there is a positive association, expanding our knowledge of the association between religious frameworks on a particular facet of mental health. The second article uses OLS to test the relationship between belief in God and fertility intentions in the Czech Republic and Slovenia using the European Fertility and Family Survey, once again finding positive relationships between belief in God or belief in a higher power and fertility intentions. This finding is theoretically important because the prior literature has tended to invoke directly institutional mechanisms in the fertility/religion relationship without considering the possibility that more individuated forms of religiosity may have independent associations. Finally, the third article uses the General Social Survey (and, once again, OLS) to test the role of religiosity as a moderator in the relationship between number of children and happiness. The literature on children and happiness has progressed beyond simple associations, but the literature incorporating concrete social moderators is still in its infancy, and especially social moderators whose influences are vectored through ideational, and not necessarily material, associations. I make the theoretical argument that, as religiosity in the United States tends to be associated with pronatalist norms and culture, and as happiness is positively associated with fulfilling sociocultural imperatives, then, all things being equal, the more religious will have a higher happiness effect (or lower unhappiness effect) from their children than the less religious. Using General Social Survey data, my empirical analyses empirically confirm this hypothesis, showing a positive and significant interaction term between religion and child number, representing a higher happiness association with child number for the religious. This interaction is partially explained by another interaction term between higher ideal family size (measuring pronatalist tendencies), but this second interaction does not explain all of the religiosity/children interactive effect.

Jason Schnittker
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