Overall, the analyses show the following: (1) in this sample of mothers and their largely child and adolescent offspring, there is transmission of importance, attendance, and denomination as evidenced by the positive association between the three relevant maternal and child measures, (2) maternal depression hinders the transmission of sense of religious importance but not the transmission of religious attendance or religious denomination and this pattern of association was the same between cross-sectional and longitudinal evaluations, and (3) concordance of denomination but not importance or attendance appears to be protective against childhood anxiety or depression and this relationship is independent of maternal depression.
The findings indicate that mothers’ ratings of personal importance and frequency of attendance significantly predict offspring ratings on these religious dimensions. This intergenerational transmission was found looking both longitudinally (maternal ratings at T10 predicting offspring ratings at T20) and cross-sectionally at T20. The findings are a partial replication of the findings by Gur et al. (2005)
showing that maternal depression affects the intergenerational transmission of importance cross-sectionally. We extend the finding by showing this pattern longitudinally. A likely interpretation is that maternal MDD decreases the qualities that make transmission likely to occur such as parental nurturance, acceptance, support, and close relationship (De Vaus, 1983
; Dudley and Dudley, 1986
; Koenig et al., 2008
; Myers, 1996
; Nelson, 1980
; Ozorak, 1989
; Wan-Ning et al., 1999
Our results differ from Gur et al. (2005)
in showing that maternal ratings of attendance predicted offspring ratings of attendance in the presence of maternal MDD. In the previous sample (Gur et al., 2005
), the offspring were primarily adults (Mean age=27.43, SD=4.69)
whereas our sample is primarily children (Mean age=12.0; SD=5.8)
, potentially revealing an effect of development. In adulthood, ratings of attendance could indicate a long standing successful transmission of the value of attending religious services. In children, by contrast, ratings of attendance could be interpreted as following the rules of the household. It is possible in younger offspring, attendance of religious services represents a more basic representation of religion in the family, and maternal depression does not affect it until the child enters adulthood.
Our results show that maternal depression does not affect the transmission of denomination which seems to indicate that transmission of denomination is more stable and not affected by whether or not the mother is depressed. Specifically mother offspring concordance of denomination, but not importance or attendance, is associated with a 91% decreased rate of anxiety or depression in offspring regardless of maternal MDD status. This finding is consistent with our previous research (Miller et al., 1997
) showing that concordance of denomination was decreased by 71% the likelihood of depression in adult offspring (Mean age=27.43, SD=4.69)
. Our finding carries added significance in that 84% of these offspring were under the age of 13 and in the window of risk for the onset of MDD (Wickramaratne and Weissman, 2008
). That concordance of religious denomination showed the highest rates of concordance in the presence of maternal depression and carried the sole protective qualities – in contrast to personal importance or frequency of attendance – suggests that religious denomination at this point in development may be the most stable form of religion within a family struggling with maternal depression.
The protective qualities of concordance of denomination regardless of maternal depression status is consistent with the “joint effect” theory by Kent (1990)
that the combination of religious identity and family identity offers protective benefits to the individual beyond either dimension alone. The overall “joint-effect” may include shared family practices of religious coping (Pargament, 1997
) or family relationship styles of commitment or forgiveness (Mahoney et al., 2005
). In the face of maternal depression, familial agreement of religious denomination may represent a larger contextual factor within the family, broadly stated a “joint effect” religious identity, which is more robust than importance or attendance and is protective for the offspring.
The agreement between mother and offspring on religious denomination further may indicate the influence of religion in the broader community and social context around the offspring. Oetting et al. (1998)
show that for children and adolescents, the primary benefits of religion are that it molds their socialization sources and community, above and beyond personal spirituality. Therefore agreement of denomination within a family may also represent a spiritually oriented social circle or community (Koenig et al., 2001
) that would potentially withstand the impact of maternal depression.
Clinically, religious practice within the family should not be ignored. Family agreement and practice of religion, or alternately family disagreement about religion, can have an important impact on youth. In working with religious families, mental health practitioners might benefit from attending to the role religion serves within the family system as a source of protection and resilience for children and adolescents.
This study examines the association between transmission of religiosity and offspring pathology. However, religiosity is a complex construct and our analyses include limited assessments of religious beliefs and practices. The relationship between concordance of religion and decreased offspring anxiety and depression could be explained by a close relationship between mother and offspring rather than religion. While in our previous study (Gur et al., 2005
) data on parental bonding was available and did not explain protective quality of concordance, in our current study, due to missing data and small sample size, we were unable to control for parental bonding measures in our analyses. We were unable to run multivariate models and therefore could not account for the correlations between the different dimensions of religiosity. Our study looks at concordance of religiosity at T20 and offspring anxiety and depression between T10 and T20, therefore the results are cross sectional in nature. A high percentage of the mothers who were disconcordant with their offspring on religious denomination were divorced or remarried, which may be a possible confounder. It could be argued that in this sample concordance of denomination overlaps with the presence of stable family life and that the stability accounts for the protective benefits to the offspring independent of religion. However, we controlled for maternal marital status in the analyses and the effect remained statistically significant. Lastly, the sample is largely Catholic and Protestant and it can be argued that the results cannot be generalized to other populations.