Public Release: 

Religious Grandparents More Involved With Grandkids

Penn State

San Francisco --- New research conducted by sociologists at Penn State and University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, appears to indicate that church attendance not only benefits the faithful themselves but also sheds blessings unto the second and third generation.

Church attendance has already been positively related, in earlier studies, to better health, life satisfaction, and happiness on the part of the individual churchgoer. Earlier studies also showed that religious parents and their children have better relationships.

Now, Penn State researcher Valarie King and a University of North Carolina colleague have shown that churchgoing grandparents have closer, more involved relationships with their grandchildren.

King, assistant professor of sociology and of human development and family studies, presented the findings at the American Sociological Association meeting in San Francisco today (Aug. 23) in a paper, "Are Religious Grandparents Involved Grandparents?" Her co-author is Dr. Glen H. Elder Jr., the Howard W. Odum professor of sociology and a research professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

King says, "Most children today grow up surrounded by contact with active grandparents, but not all grandparents are actively involved with their grandchildren. Little is known about what motivates grandparents to become involved in grandchildren's lives."

The current study is the first to explore possible motivations using multiple measures of grandparent involvement as well as multiple measures of religiousness. Previous studies, which had found no correlation between grandparent involvement and religiousness, had looked at only two measures of grandparent involvement along with church attendance.

The data were collected by Dr. Rand D. Conger, professor of sociology and psychology at Iowa State University, his colleagues and Elder in interviews conducted in 1994 with more than 500 White families living in rural Iowa. The grandchildren were all teenagers, in the 12th grade, at the time of data collection and the grandparents were between 51 and 92 years old. About one-fifth of the teenagers came from a household headed by a single mother. The majority of religious grandparents were Protestant, primarily Lutherans and Methodists.

The researchers measured "religiousness" by the number of times the grandparent attended church, led services, taught Sunday school, attended religion classes, read the Bible, tuned in to religious TV or radio and prayed as well as by their agreement that faith gives life meaning, has importance in daily life and provides spiritual comfort.

They measured "involvement" between grandparent and grandchild by examining the frequency of general contact, relationship quality, participation in activities, playing the roles of mentor and friend, perception of knowing the grandchild, teaching the grandchild skills, discussing personal problems, discussing the grandchild's future with him or her, taking care of the grandchild when he or she is sick, perception of being able to influence the grandchild, indulging the grandchild, level of conflict, and the perception that the grandparent is taken seriously by the grandchild.

The researchers found that most of the "religiousness" and "involvement" measures correlated modestly, yet significantly, suggesting that religious grandparents are, indeed, more likely to be involved with their grandchildren in multiple, specific and general, positive ways. Attendance at church services and public participation in religious activities correlated most strongly with involvement.

"The data don't tell us what it is about religious observance that motivates grandparents to be involved with their grandchildren," said King of Penn State. "However, the data do indicate that religious grandparents are, in general, more involved with all types of family and social ties and this may be one explanation of their greater involvement with their grandchildren."

While the data came from white Midwesterners, King says that her hypothesis is that the findings will hold for grandparents and grandchildren from other backgrounds.

King and Elder's study is part of a larger examination of the experiential events that shape the grandparent role. They have examined the association between educational attainment and grandparenting as well as the link between religiousness and the grandparenting role. Their findings on education were published in a paper, "Education and Grandparenting Roles," in the July 1998 issue of the journal, Research on Aging.

The research program is supported, in part, by grants from the National Institutes of Mental Health, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the Bureau of Maternal and Child Health, the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Successful Adolescent Development Among Youth in High-Risk Settings, the Iowa Agriculture and Home Economics Experiment Station and the Brookdale Foundation.

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EDITORS: Dr. King is at (814) 863-8716 or at vking@pop.psu.edu by email; Dr. Elder is at (919) 966-6660 or at GLEN_ELDER@UNC.EDU by email.

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