Families of faith: Sociologist Vern Bengtson

Early in his career as a scholar, Vern Bengtson started the Longitudinal Study of Generations, a multidisciplinary investigation of families, aging and social change. The study has followed families since 1970. Bengtson taught sociology for many years at the University of Southern California. A past president of the Gerontological Society of America, he is coauthor of Families and Faith: How Religion Is Passed Down across Generations and How Families Still Matter: A Longitudinal Study of Youth in Two Generations, among many other works.

What did you find out about how families transmit religion from generation to generation?

We found that the highest generational transmission occurs in families with a high degree of warmth—particularly if the father is perceived as warm and close. It’s not enough for parents to be role models, send their kids to church, be involved in church and have devotional activities at home. That’s all well and good, but the key is what we call intergenerational solidarity or family cohesion.