Adolescent risk behaviors and religion: Findings from a national study

Jill W. Sinha, Ram A. Cnaan, Richard J. Gelles

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Too few studies have assessed the relationship between youth risk behaviors and religiosity using measures which captured the varied extent to which youth are engaged in religion. This study applied three measures of religiosity and risk behaviors. In addition, this study ascertained information about youths' participation in religious activities from a parent or caretaker. Based on a national random sample of 2004 teens (ages 11-18), this study indicates that youth perceive religion as important, are active in religious worship and activities, and further shows that perceived importance of religion as well as participation in religious activities are associated with decreased risk behaviors. Looking at ten risk behaviors, religiosity variables were consistently associated with reduced risk behaviors in the areas of: smoking, alcohol use, truancy, sexual activity, marijuana use, and depression. In the case of these six risk variables, religiosity variables were significantly associated with reduced risk behaviors when controlling for family background variables and self-esteem. The study highlights the importance of further understanding the relationship between religious variables, background variables, self-esteem, and youth risk behaviors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)231-249
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Adolescence
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2007
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors wish to acknowledge the statistical support given by Paul Allison and Vera Huang, University of Pennsylvania. Financial support for data collection was received from the Phillip Morris Corporation. We also want to thank the thoughtful comments received from the journal's anonymous reviewers and especially the editor Professor Alan Waterman.


  • Religiosity
  • Risk behavior
  • Self-esteem

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Social Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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