Religious Contexts and Adolescents' Risky Behaviors

Open Access
Adamczyk, Amy
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
June 01, 2005
Committee Members:
  • Roger Kent Finke, Committee Chair
  • Eric Silver, Committee Member
  • Eva Sharon Lefkowitz, Committee Member
  • Richard B Felson, Committee Member
  • context
  • delinquency
  • sex
  • religion
  • friends
  • schools
Sociologists have long been interested in how individuals are affected by the people with whom they interact and the environments where they live. Despite a plethora of research on contextual influences, little research has been conducted on religious contexts. Examining the association between teens’ risky behaviors and three religious contexts, this project addresses this omission in past research. To begin I assess the extent to which friends’ religiosity, religious schools and living in the Bible Belt are independently associated with first sex and delinquency. Because so few sociologists have examined multiple or overlapping religious contexts, we do not know which behavior is associated with which context. Additionally, we know little about the extent to which more inclusive contexts, such as the Bible Belt are mediated by more immediate ones like friendship groups. I find that the more immediate and intimate contexts mediate Bible Belt influences: schoolmates religiosity is associated with first sex and friends’ religiosity is related to delinquency and first sex. This project also examines the extent to which religious contexts are associated with attitude-behavior consistency. Specifically, in which contexts are teenagers’ own religious attitudes most likely associated with delinquency and first sex? I address this issue by examining whether friends, school, or regional religiosity moderates the relation between individual religiosity and risky behaviors. I find that friends’ religiosity moderates the link between individual religiosity and delinquency, but not first sex. Additionally, I look at the separate influence of romantic partner and friends’ religiosity. After establishing a direct relation between sex and friends’ religiosity, I examine whether sex attitudes explain the association and find that guilt about sex, in part, mediates it. Finally, I use longitudinal data to boost confidence about the causal direction by estimating the effect of friends’ religiosity on sex. I also show that first sex is associated with subsequent friendship choices. My analysis relies on two waves of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Unlike previous studies, which use respondents’ perceptions of their friends’ behaviors, the data on friends and romantic partners for this study are taken directly from their reports. Likewise, my analysis improves on previous studies by using longitudinal data to establish causal ordering for friend influences, and multilevel models to correctly estimate associations between teens’ risky behaviors and friends, school, and regional religiosity.