Religious involvement over the life course: problems of measurement and classification

Publication type

Journal Article


Publication date

June 1, 2015


Longitudinal studies have the potential to enhance our understanding of
stability and change in religious identity, practice and belief.  Good
individual-level data would help in developing and testing theories
concerning the causes and consequences of religious involvement.  Past
research has shown, however, that even subtle differences in wording or
context can substantially affect responses to questions on religion. The
1970 British Cohort Study offers an important opportunity to test the
consistency of self-reported religion and religiosity.  In addition, the
2012 sweep asked questions on belief in God and life after death as
well as religious affiliation and practice, allowing us to explore the
complexity of religious adherence. A close examination of the multiple
waves of the BCS70 reveals a large amount of uncertainty in measurement,
making it hard to detect whatever genuine change might have occurred. 
There are indications of considerable unreliability in reported past and
present affiliation.  It is also difficult to be confident about
changes in religious commitment, though a substantial proportion of
teenagers who reported that religion was an important part of their
lives became relatively unreligious adults.  The data on religious
belief make it apparent that while some people seem wholly non-religious
and a smaller number are actively (and consistently) religious, the
majority fall into intermediate categories defined by nominal
allegiance, unorthodox belief, or belief in the absence of affiliation
or practice.  It is clear that multiple survey items covering identity,
practice and belief are needed to obtain a reliable picture of religious

Published in

Longitudinal and Life Course Studies

Volume and page numbers

Volume: 6 , p.212 -227






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