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Grandparents link with church-going

As Christmas approaches, people are more likely to attend religious services if their grandparents did, according to a new study at the University of Manchester, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

“Churchgoing is passed down through families from one generation to the next. It was already known that it is about six times more likely among people whose parents attended, as compared with others. However, the new research shows something more - grandparents matter.” Says Dr David Voas of the University of Manchester.

The results come from his analysis of 2001 data from an extremely large sample of churchgoers - more than 100,000 adults from almost 2,000 local churches – in the Church of England, the Methodist Church, the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the United Reformed Church and The Salvation Army.

An unexpected finding from the study was that even for children of churchgoers, grandparents make a difference. Those whose grandparents went to church are more likely to go themselves than those whose grandparents did not.

It found that, overall, grandchildren whose parents and grandparents went to church are 36 per cent more likely to attend than those whose parents sit in the pews on Sunday, but whose grandparents worshipped rarely or never.

Dr Voas concedes that exactly why grandparents make a difference is open to debate. Religious involvement in the early generation is passed on to, and then by, the parents. So even among adults who attend church, those whose parents were frequent attenders will be more religious on average than others.

But he adds: “Examination of the statistics shows that for any given level of religious commitment in the middle generation, it is still the case that church-going grandparents are more likely to produce church-going grandchildren.

“The influence of grandparents is therefore at least partly direct rather than indirect.” Grandparents often have a role in bringing up children, which might include taking them to church or teaching them about religion. Conversely, less observant grandparents will transmit their religious indifference.

And for the future? Dr Voas said: “Well, if the grandchildren don’t attend, their children probably won’t either. Religious virtues and vices may be visited upon later generations, even if parents try to break the pattern.”

Dr Voas on 0161 275 4836 / 01433 639212 or
ESRC Press Office
Alexandra Saxon Tel: 01793 413032/07971027335, e-mail:

Annika Howard Tel: 01793 413119, e-mail:

Annika Howard | alfa
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