Reducing Teens' Risk and the Role of Religiosity

Religious teens are less likely to take part in risk behaviors. For example, they are less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, be sexually active, or be delinquent.

  • Risky Behavior. Teens who say that religion is important in their lives and/or attend church services frequently are less likely than their peers to engage in risky behaviors. Compared with peers, youths who said religion was important in their lives and/or attended religious services frequently were less likely to smoke, use alcohol, be truant, be sexually active, use marijuana, or report feelings of depression, even when controlling for family background variables and self-esteem.1
  • Sexual Activity. Teens who attend church frequently and place a high importance on religion are less likely to be sexually active. Adolescents who frequently attended church and church youth activities, prayed often, and said religion was important to them were less likely to report ever having had sex.2
  • Vandalism. Teens who say they are religious are less likely to engage in vandalism than their peers. Compared with youths who reported high levels of religiosity, those who reported low levels of religiosity were twice as likely to engage in vandalism.3
  • Teen Pregnancy. Religiously active teen girls are less likely to get pregnant. Adolescent girls who attended religious services and church youth activities more frequently than their peers were less likely to have ever been pregnant.4
  • Sexual Activity (African-American Teens). Among a sample of African-American teens, the importance of religion in their lives is associated with a lower likelihood of engaging in sexual activity. Among African-American youths surveyed, those who placed a greater importance on religion were less likely to report having had sex in the previous year or having had sex without birth control.5
  • Delinquency. Low-risk teens who say religion is important in their lives are less likely to engage in delinquency than peers who place less emphasis on religion. A student’s rating of the “importance of religion” was related to his vulnerability to delinquency. With each unit increase in the importance assigned to religious faith, the odds of a youth being vulnerable to delinquency declined by approximately 33 percent. Even when controlling for other factors such as academic performance the relationship between the importance youths assigned to religion and the lesser likelihood of delinquency remained strong.6
  • Anti-Social Behavior. Teens who frequently engage in private religious practice are less likely to exhibit anti-social behavior. Youths who more frequently prayed and read, watched, or heard religious content were less likely to exhibit anti-social behavior. Private religious practice also moderated the impact of factors associated with an increase in violent behavior, such as witnessing violence or being the victim of violence.7
  • Substance Abuse. Adolescents who attend church services more frequently and say that religion is more important in their lives are less likely to engage in substance abuse. Adolescents who were more religious (i.e. attended church more frequently and assigned a higher importance to religion in their lives) were less likely to smoke cigarettes, engage in binge drinking, and smoke marijuana.8
  • Sexual Activity. Adolescents and young adults who receive more spiritual support from family and friends are less likely to become sexually active. The stronger the spiritual interconnectedness between youths and their family and friends, the less likely they were to have engaged in voluntary sexual activity.9
  • Marijuana Use. Students attending schools with a more religious environment are less likely to use marijuana than peers in less religious school settings. The higher the level of religiosity in a school the lower the likelihood that students will use marijuana, even when controlling for individual students’ religiosity (measured by church attendance).10


  1. Jill W. Sinha, Ram A. Cnaan, and Richard J. Gelles, “Adolescent Risk Behaviors and Religion: Findings from a National Study,” Journal of Adolescence, Vol. 30, No. 2 (April 2007), pp. 231–249.
  2. James M. Nonnemaker, Clea A. McNeely, and Robert W. Blum, “Public and Private Domains of Religiosity and Adolescent Health Risk Behaviors: Evidence from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health,” Social Science and Medicine, Vol. 57, No. 11 (2003), pp. 2049–2054.
  3. John K. Cochran, “Another Look at Delinquency and Religiosity,” Sociological Spectrum, Vol. 9, No. 2 (1989), pp. 147–162.
  4. Nonnemaker, McNeely, and Blum, “Public and Private Domains,” 2049–2054.
  5. Thomas A. Wills et al., “Family Communication and Religiosity Related to Substance Use and Sexual Behavior in Early Adolescence: A Test for Pathways Through Self-Control and Prototype Perceptions,” Psychology of Addictive Behavior, Vol. 17, No. 4 (December 2003), pp. 312–323.
  6. Mark D. Regnerus and Glenn H. Elder, “Religion and Vulnerability Among Low-Risk Adolescents,” Social Science Research, Vol. 32, No. 4 (December 2003), pp. 633–658.
  7. Michelle J. Pearce, “The Protective Effects of Religiousness and Parent Involvement on the Development of Conduct Problems Among Youth Exposed to Violence,” Child Development, Vol. 74, No. 6 (November/December 2003), pp. 1682–1696.
  8. John M. Wallace, Jr., et al., “Religiosity and Adolescent Substance Use: The Role of Individual and Contextual Influences,” Social Problems, Vol. 54, No. 2 (May 2007), pp. 308–327.
  9. David W. Holder et al., “The Association between Adolescent Spirituality and Voluntary Sexual Activity,” Journal of Adolescent Health, Vol. 26, No. 4 (April 2000), pp. 295–302.
  10. Wallace et al., “Religiosity and Adolescent Substance Use,” 308–327.