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The image of a child praying at their mother’s knee is in keeping with research that finds women are generally more religious than men, sociologists say, and in many cases mothers invest the most effort in getting children involved in religious activities such as attending worship services, Sunday School or youth camps.

“Because regular church attendance is less common for fathers than mothers, in some ways his religiosity is more important because it’s more unusual,” said Brad Wilcox, sociology professor at the University of Virginia and director of the National Marriage Project. “So kids who see both mothers and fathers regularly attending church are more likely to take their faith seriously compared to kids who see just their mother attend church.”

Elisa Zhai Autry, a sociologist of religion and global fellow at the Institute for Global Engagement, said her research on the religiosity of children of divorce found the impact of the father’s commitment to his faith was critical in determining whether the children stayed active in church as adults.

They found in custody arrangements where the father has limited time with his children, he will choose leisure activities over church. Also, children’s reduced time with paternal relatives limits that influence on the children’s exposure to religion.

“Our argument was the influence of fathers is unique and vital,” Autry said. “A mother’s influence is constant. They are always there. But somehow that is not enough.”

The same goes for intact families, Autry said, where children look to both father and mother as role models both spiritually and physically on how to be a religious person.

Dollahite, co-director of the American Families of Faith project, said interviews with 200 families of Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths found religion to be most influential on children when both parents are united in their commitment to living their faith.

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