Do children pick up their religious views from their fathers?

Gregory Paul and Phil Zuckerman in a long article titled Why the gods are not winning say that, “Women church goers greatly outnumber men, who find church too dull. Here’s the kicker. Children tend to pick up their beliefs from their fathers. So, despite a vibrant evangelical youth cohort, young Americans taken as a whole are the least religious and most culturally tolerant age group in the nation.” (My italics)

The paper does not provide citations, unfortunately, though I did find a little support in the literature for the claim. For example, in a paper titled On the Relative Influence of Mothers and Fathers: A Covariance Analysis of Political and Religious Socialization (August 1978, JOURNAL OF MARRIAGE AND THE FAMILY, vol. 40, no. 3, p. 519-530) authors Alan C. Acock and Vern L. Bengtson say that “The mother consistently appears more predictive in most areas we examined and is often the dominant parent in terms of prediction. The only areas in which the fathers had a slight edge were in Religious Behavior, Religiosity, and Tolerance of Deviance.”

My parents had similar religious beliefs so I cannot tell who influenced me more. I had not been aware of the greater influence of fathers on children’s religious beliefs and am curious if this statement is consistent with the experiences of readers of this blog.

So are your religious views closer to your father or your mother?


  1. Alyx Jacobs says

    I only saw my father for a few weeks every summer when I was growing up, but my beliefs are closer to his then my mother’s, who is Catholic. In fact, I was dissatisfied with a belief in god in general as a teenager, but not really sure what that meant. It wasn’t until one summer when my father said out of the blue that he didn’t really believe in god. I remember distinctly thinking ‘I didn’t know you could do that, I don’t believe in god either.’

  2. Apoorva says

    My dad was an atheist for a long time, and I think his influence has rubbed off on me, in a positive way. However, he has become increasingly spiritual off late, and perhaps that has to do with that fact that one becomes more religious or spiritual as he/she gets older. (On a side note, I remember the example you brought up in a recent radio show where you gave the example of freshmen and seniors and how the freshmen had become more religious as they progressed through their undergraduate years). Hopefully, this trait (of me being an atheist) will stick on for a while!

  3. Alyx Jacobs says

    I wonder if it’s less about the specific parents influence then it is that having any non-religious parent makes it more likely a person will follow suit, with men just being more likely to be less religious. I am curious why men are less religious then women.

  4. says


    You make a good point. An interesting study would be to see what happens to children’s beliefs when one parent is a believer and the other is not. That would tie in with Apoorva’s experience too.

    I’ll see if I can find anyone who has looked into it.

  5. says

    In case of the children if you notice that the basic human behavior are taught by the parents and totally influenced by them. So when the parents do something, they ask or observe the activities and make an image in their mind and that works positively later.

  6. says

    Expanding the thought a little more. It’s true that the church goers in my family were my mother and grandmother but my attachments were to the men in the church, ergo the probable attachment to my father. A strong believer in reincarnation I felt that churches, in large part being a mans world, I was conditioned to see the authority coming from men rather than women.

    As far as Alyx’s comment, women are supposed to be the embodiment of feeling and that often runs counter to reason, supposedly the embodiment of men, because it deals with things unseen and without verbal expression as does much that is spiritual in nature.

  7. says

    My father is a 74 year-old atheist and my mom is Christian Orthodox and I remember that Religion topic was a really frequent one in my family when i was a child. Honestly, dad has never told me to be an atheist, but Mother did. I’m 38 and I’m Atheist.

    Maybe your question is right about me and my family, but I think that if my mom didn’t claim me to be Orthodox, and if she didn’t claim that the only one Lord is their God, the possibility of my different Religion view for now would have been more higher.

  8. says

    Well, both of my parents are on the same religious belief. So, it is almost 100% for me to opt they religious views, but however now I’m very much influence with the Buddhist religion.

    I will continue to follow Christianity but I will definitely follow the path of Buddha.

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