Parents of small children are a not especially sold on religion – it is only when the kids get to school age, and especially when the children are teenagers, that parents definitely see the value of religion.
I was looking at the 2002 Religion and Public Life Survey, commissioned by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. The survey asked several questions about the importance of religion in society, and especially for morality. They report the answers of those who have children under 18 at home, then break them down into those with kids under 5, with children 6 – 12, and with children 13 –17. In general, sheer parenthood is not a big differentiator on these questions. The age of the kids makes a bigger difference.
The Pew survey asked which of these two statements came closer to the respondents’ views:
A. Children are more likely to grow up to be moral adults when they are raised in a religious faith, or
B. Children are just as likely to grow up to be moral adults whether or not they are raised in a religious faith
Nearly everyone could choose one or the other. Overall, 62% of all respondents chose A. That is, nearly two thirds of Americans believe that adults will be more moral if they are raised religiously. Moreover, there is no difference between parents with kids at home (61%) versus other people (62%).
Yet when we look at parents of different ages of kids, we find an interesting pattern. Parents of children under 5 were less likely than other parents to think a religious upbringing was important – 57% to 64%. Yet the parents of middle schoolers reverse that pattern, with 63% saying yes, compared to only 59% of other parents. Parents of teens are even more likely to want a religious upbringing for their kids, with 65% answering yes, compared to the same 59% of other parents.
The survey then offered a parallel choice:
A. It is not necessary to believe in God in order to be moral and have good values, or
B. It is necessary to believe in God in order to be moral and have good values.
Again, the parents of the smallest children were likely to take the less religious answer. 57% chose option one, which shrank to a bare majority (50.2%) of the parents of teens.
These are, admittedly, not huge differences. Most American, parents or not, think that religion is important in raising up moral adults. But it is interesting that parents show an increasing appreciation of the importance of religion for moral upbringing as their children get older. The parents of teenagers are especially likely to seek religious help.