May 7, 2007

From the Archives

The Spirituality of Moms Outpaces that of Dads

Mothers inhabit many roles inside and outside the family. Within the household, they are often counted on to be the emotional compass, organizer, and multitasking manager of the family. Add to that list another common function: spiritual energizer.

Barna Access Plus

Strengthen your message, train your team and grow your church with cultural insights and practical resources, all in one place.

According to a new Barna study, women who are raising children are among the most faith-minded and spiritually active segments of the American population.
The study explored faith-related activities, commitments and perspectives, relying upon nationally representative interviews among more than 10,000 adults and nearly 2000 women who are currently parenting children under the age of 18.

The study shows that more than three-quarters of moms identify “family” to be their highest priority. At the same time, a majority of mothers strongly agree that their faith is very important in their life. In contrast, fathers also tend to list family as their top priority in life, yet they are much less likely to equally attribute importance to faith.

Mom versus Dad

Men may enjoy advantages in physical strength, but they are much less likely than women to exercise their spiritual muscles. This gender gap extends to the typical family unit: mothers outpace fathers in terms of spiritual activity and commitment. In fact, the Barna survey examined 12 different elements of faith behavior and perspective. Mothers were distinct from fathers on 11 of the 12 factors.

When it comes to spiritual perspectives, a majority of mothers said they have been greatly transformed by their faith, while less than half of fathers had shared this experience. Also, three-quarters of moms said their faith is very important in their life, while this view was true among just two-thirds of fathers. Mothers were also more likely than fathers to be born again Christians, to say they are absolutely committed to Christianity, and to embrace a personal responsibility to share their faith in Jesus Christ with others.

Moms are also more religiously active. In a typical week, mothers are more likely than are fathers to attend church, pray, read the Bible, participate in a small group, attend Sunday school, and volunteer some of their time to help a non-profit organization. The only faith-related activity in which fathers are just as likely as mothers to engage is volunteering to help at a church.

David Kinnaman, President of The Barna Group and the director of the study, clarified the role of gender in shaping a person’s spiritual profile. “Whether they are a parent or not, women in America have high levels of spiritual sensitivity and engagement. Men generally lag behind the spirituality of women – and particularly so if they are not a father. In other words, having children intensifies the spiritual commitment of men, but even so most fathers still do not measure up to the spiritual footprint of their parenting counterparts.”

Boomer versus Buster

The responsibility for raising America’s children is primarily in the hands of two adult generations: Boomer and Buster parents. About one out of every five adults in America is a mom with children under age 18, meaning there are currently about 45 million moms of young children in the nation. Among these women, 54% are part of the Buster generation (ages 23-41) and 39% are Boomers (ages 42-60). While these groups share many attributes, the research raised several points of caution concerning young moms.


  1. First, going it alone as a parent is becoming increasingly common. Most Buster moms are currently married; however, three out of ten are not. Also, one-sixth of young moms have never been married, which is double the proportion found among Boomer moms. Stunningly, among the young women in the Mosaic generation who are parents (that is, the moms who are currently ages 18 to 22), four out of five are not married (79%). In the next decade, this percentage will significantly decrease as more married Mosaics enter the ranks of parenthood, yet it demonstrates how millions of the youngest of moms in our culture do not have the support or energy of a husband alongside them in their parenting efforts.
  2. Second, Buster moms exhibit less passion for spirituality and less commitment to Christianity compared to Boomer moms. For instance, young moms are less likely to volunteer to help at a church, to read the Bible or to attend worship services at a church. While this decreased activity may be a function of the more intense requirements of raising preschoolers, it is not merely an issue of time management. Buster moms are significantly less likely than Boomer moms to be absolutely committed to Christianity (53% versus 67%). They are also less likely to say they feel compelled to share their faith with others and young moms are less inclined to describe their faith as very important in their life.

Barna Access Plus

Strengthen your message, train your team and grow your church with cultural insights and practical resources, all in one place.

What it Means

Kinnaman pointed out several implications of this research. “One of the trends we have been monitoring is the erosion of commitment among young Americans toward Christianity and traditional expressions of faith. Buster moms are in the crux of that challenge, being much more spiritually minded than young dads, but still wrestling with the Christian faith in ways Boomers did not. If moms are the spiritual backbone of families today – and they often are – it is imperative to find new approaches that help moms connect faith and family, especially for young mothers.

“Still, moms of every generation deserve an enormous amount of credit for empowering the spiritual pursuits of their family and, in turn, energizing faith in America. Compared to men, women are more likely to communicate about faith, prioritize activities that develop their faith and that of their children, and they are more vulnerable about their needs and emotions. There is still room for growth among moms. Church leaders and parents still need to focus on outcomes and the depth of their parenting efforts. Yet our nation would not be the same without the significant spiritual influence of mothers. Imagine the impact on our society if fathers were to simply match the intensity of their parenting peers.”

Additional Reading and Resources

Research Details

This report is based upon telephone interviews conducted in 10 nationwide surveys conducted by The Barna Group. The random sample of 10,035 adults, age 18 and older, was conducted from January 2005 through January 2007. The study included interviews with 1,926 women who are parenting a child under the age of 18. The maximum margin of sampling error associated with the sample of mothers is ±2.4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. Statistical weighting was used to calibrate the sample to known population percentages in relation to demographic variables.

“Born again Christians” are defined as people who said they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today and who also indicated they believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. Respondents are not asked to describe themselves as “born again.”

About Barna

Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.

Get Barna in your inbox

Subscribe to Barna’s free newsletters for the latest data and insights to navigate today’s most complex issues.