Civic Engagement: The Role of Family and Faith

Religious participation and marriage appear to enhance community involvement. Individuals who regularly attend religious services are more likely to perform charitable acts, give financially, vote in elections, and join civic organizations. Similarly, married individuals tend to volunteer more.

  • Religious individuals are more likely to perform informal charitable acts. All other things being equal, compared to their secular peers, respondents who attended religious service once a week or more were more likely to help out with the homeless, give blood, and exhibit civility and honesty (e.g., return excess change to the store).1
  • Individuals who frequently attend religious services are more likely to give money to poverty-relief organizations. Frequency of church attendance was related to charitable giving. Individuals who reported having a high frequency of church attendance were more likely to give money to organizations that help the poor and needy compared to individuals who reported having a low frequency of church attendance.2
  • Religious participation is linked to electoral turnout. Individuals who reported a high frequency of participation in church organizations and activities were more likely to vote in a presidential election than individuals who reported not participating in church organizations and activities.3
  • Religiously active adolescents are more likely to engage in electoral participation young adults. On average, individuals who reported participating in religious groups and organizations as adolescents were more likely to register to vote and to vote in a presidential election as young adults when compared to those who reported not participating in religious groups and organizations.4
  • Individuals who regularly attend religious services tend to join a greater number of other non-religious organizations as well. Compared with individuals who attended religious less than once or twice a month, those who attended at least once a week were 21 percent more likely to belong to three or more non-religious organizations. Over time, frequent attendees who initially belonged to less than three non-religious groups were 58 percent more likely to increase their non-religious memberships.5
  • Married individuals are more likely to volunteer for social service. “Married adults were 1.3 times more likely than unmarried adults to have volunteered [for social service], and married adults averaged 1.4 times more volunteer hours than unmarried individuals.” In addition, parents were also twice as likely as childless adults to volunteer for social service.6
  • Civically active fathers are more likely to spend one-on-one time with their children. Fathers’ civic involvement included participation in civic groups, professional associations, and service organizations, and one-on-one activities with their children included helping out with homework and having private talks.7
  • Adolescents with civically active mothers tend to be civically involved as well. Conversely, adolescents reporting low civic involvement tended to have mothers who reported low levels of civic involvement.8
  • Individuals whose parents divorce early in their childhood tend to be less trusting of others as adults. Individuals who experienced parental divorce before the age of four were less likely to trust others as adults. The negative effect was found to be mediated by the quality of the relationship individuals had with their parents during their teens.9


  1. Arthur C. Brooks, “Compassion, Religion, and Politics,” Public Interest 157 (Fall 2004): 57-66.
  2. Mark D. Regnerus, Christian Smith and David Sikkink, “Who Gives to the Poor? The Influence of Religious Tradition and Political Location on the Personal Generosity of Americans Toward the Poor,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 37, No. 3 (1998): 481-493.
  3. C. A. Cassel, “Voluntary Associations, Churches, and Social Participation Theories of Turnout,” Social Science Quarterly 80, No. 3 (1999): 504-517.
  4. Chandra Muller and Kyle Dodson, “Participation in Voluntary Youth-Serving Associations and Early Adult Voting Behavior,” Social Science Quarterly 85, No. 3 (2004): 660-676.
  5. William J. Strawbridge et al., “Frequent Attendance at Religious Services and Mortality over 28 Years,” American Journal of Public Health 87, No. 6 (June 1997): 957-961.
  6. Corey L. M. Keyes, “Social Civility in the United States,” Sociological Inquiry 72, No. 3 (2002): 393-408.
  7. W. Bradford Wilcox, “Religion, Convention, and Paternal Involvement,” Journal of Marriage and the Family 64, No. 3 (August 2002): 780-792.
  8. Judith Smetana and Aaron Metzger, “Family and Religious Antecedents of Civic Involvement in Middle Class African American Late Adolescents,” Journal of Research on Adolescence 15, No. 3 (2005): 325-352.
  9. Valarie King, “Parental Divorce and Interpersonal Trust in Adult Offspring,” Journal of Marriage and Family 64, No. 3 (August 2002): 642-656.