Research Briefs

March 20, 2013

Baylor and Tufts U. to study Boy Scout programs

A study to examine whether and how Boy Scout programs affect the character, health and academic achievement of youths -- as well as their contribution to community and democracy -- will be launched in September by Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion and Tufts University's Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development.

The three-year study, armed with major funding from the John Templeton Foundation and headed by Tufts, will evaluate an innovative Boy Scouts of America program that incorporates full-time executives to assist Scout troops by training the leaders, recruiting and retaining youths, and fund raising. Typically, local troops are staffed by volunteers.

Researchers will include Dr. Byron Johnson, director of the ISR and also of Baylor's Program on Prosocial Behavior. The study will be done in four waves in a geographic area in Philadelphia that is served by the Cradle of Liberty Council Boy Scouts of America.

Noted Johnson: "The program could become a model for recruitment and retention of diverse youth -- especially boys from inner cities -- in Boy Scouts, especially if the study shows that involvement in the Scouts enhances the youths' character."

Children of divorce more likely to switch/avoid organized religion

Adults whose parents were divorced are more likely to switch religions or disassociate themselves from institutional religions altogether -- but growing up in a single-parent family does not have any effect on private religious life, including praying, according to a study by a Baylor sociologist.

The findings also suggest that being a child of divorced parents is not in itself as important a factor in one's religious life as previous research has indicated, according to Dr. Jeremy Uecker, an assistant professor of sociology at Baylor and lead author of the study. The quantitative analysis of data from 3,346 respondents ages 18 to 87, taken from the General Social Surveys done in 1991, 1998 and 2008, appears in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.

"You have to take into account the context," Uecker said. "People who are less religious are more likely to get divorced. And if the parents are of different religions or differing levels of religiosity from one another, they also are more likely to divorce. So if we ignore that, we're overstating the effects of divorce itself on religious outcomes."

The main reason parental divorce affects religious outcomes, Uecker argues, is that children are separated from one of their parents, and parents are usually considered the primary source of religious training for children.

Other factors after the divorce also may influence children during their formative years and ultimately affect their religious outcome as adults, he said. A parent who has been divorced may feel stigmatized or uncomfortable in some congregations and less likely to attend than previously. Typically, a child of divorce stays with his or her mother, who may become depressed or angry with God, and that may affect the child. Even logistical difficulty in getting to church could be a factor, Uecker said.

Shared activities are 'game changers' for father-daughter relationships

The most frequent turning point in father-daughter relationships is shared activity -- especially sports -- ahead of such pivotal events as when a daughter marries or leaves home, according to a study by Baylor University researchers.

"This is the masculine style of building closeness -- called 'closeness in the doing' -- whereas the feminine orientation is talking, 'closeness in the dialogue,'" said Dr. Mark T. Morman, a professor of communication in Baylor's College of Arts and Sciences. An article about the findings by Morman and former Baylor graduate student Elizabeth Barrett, MA '06, is published in the Journal of Human Communication.

When asked what key experiences changed closeness in their relationships, fathers and daughters who were study participants mentioned events typical of those that help cement masculine friendships. Morman noted that the study is qualitative -- based on written responses by participants rather than by a statistical analysis. But it reveals meaningful markers of when relationships changed, regardless of whether they became closer or more distant, he said.

The 43 fathers and 43 daughters in the study were not related to one another but were asked to pinpoint in writing a crucial moment of change in their own father-daughter relationships.

Most frequently mentioned of 14 relationship changes by daughters were engaging activities with their fathers, their marriages and physical distance from their fathers. Fathers most frequently mentioned joint activities, a daughter's marriage and the beginning of a daughter's dating.

From the daughters' perspective, sports, working together and vacationing together were the shared activities most frequently mentioned. Sports also was the most frequently mentioned activity by fathers, with some saying it gave them a bond their daughter did not have with her mother or siblings. Others said it opened the lines of communication to talk about other subjects. Additional activities fathers mentioned were church functions, household projects and teaching their daughters to drive.