Religious Heterogamy and the Intergenerational Transmission of Religion in China


Research has long established that parents who do not share the same religious tradition produce less religious children than parents who do. Therefore, religious heterogamy and its negative effects on religious socialization have been associated with the generational decline of religion in Western societies. How about China, where religion has been resurging in the last few decades? Existing studies suggest two opposing possibilities: the restrictive national context may diminish parental impact on religious socialization, or the family influence withstands contextual pressures. Using the 2007 Spiritual Life Survey of Chinese Residents and logistic regression models, we examine patterns of association between having one or two religious parents during childhood and current religious affiliation, beliefs, behavior, and salience of respondents in China. Analyses reveal that despite China’s atheist education system and strict religion policies, having at least one religiously affiliated parent is associated with increased religiosity compared to having two nonreligious parents. As the number of interreligious marriages rises in Chinese society, religious heterogamy contributes to the growth of religion among younger generations. Whereas religious heterogamy in the West has a secularizing effect on the next generation and contributes to religion’s decline, religious heterogamy in secular nations such as China has a religionizing effect and contributes to religion’s rise.

Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 59(3): 439-454