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Published in Sociology of Religion 69:2 (2008), pp. 125–149; Copyright © 2008 by the Association for the Sociology of Religion and Oxford University Press. Used by permission.
A summary of this article appears in Winter 2009 issue of Contexts (volume 8, issue 1), under title “Are you there God? It’s me, a poor teen.”
This article is also reprinted in Sociology of Religion: A Reader, 2nd Edition, edited by Susanne Monahan, William Mirola, and Michael Emerson (forthcoming).


Empirical research has ignored the effects of poverty on adolescent religion even though children are far more likely than adults to live in poverty in the United States. The current research demonstrates considerable differences in the religious activities and religious viewpoints of poor and non-poor American teenagers. Analysis of National Study of Youth and Religion survey data shows that while poor teenagers are especially likely to pray, read religious scriptures, and report high levels of personal faith, they are unlikely to regularly participate in organized religious activities. Other findings include poor teenagers’ emphasis on role reversal in the afterlife, their apparently conventional levels of interaction with secular society, and their low likelihood of reporting the types of emotional religious experiences that are commonly associated with lower class religion. The findings highlight the important role poverty plays in shaping the religious outlooks and activities of adolescents, as well as the need for researchers to consider the role of social class when analyzing Americans’ religious beliefs and activities.

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