Are mothers more likely than fathers to pass down their religion?


Great Adventurer
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Ethnic group
3/4 Colonial American, 1/8 Cornish, 1/8 Welsh
Y-DNA haplogroup
I2c1 PF3892+ (Swiss)
mtDNA haplogroup
U4a (Cornish)
One striking thing I noticed when looking over my own genealogy is how incredibly matrilineal religious identification trends were. My religious family tree looks like the following, with fathers on the left and mothers on the right:


Other than my mother's denominational changes in her early life due to her parents remarrying, that may as well be an mtDNA chart. It's also made me realize that, had my grandparents not divorced, I'd much more likely be a Methodist right now than a "nothing." It's weird to attribute something that I like to think I'm being rational about to a decision my mother made based on her parents... but I undoubtedly was more inclined towards "nothing" as a result of my mother, and without that, I'd be inheriting a religious tradition that traces back along my matriline to 18th century Cornwall.

The best study I've found on this subject is Nelsen 1990, which contains additional correlations alongside a general confirmation that children are more likely to inherit their religion from their mother:

Nelsen 1990 said:
Data from 1974 for a national sample of youths, ages 13-18, are examined to compare the religious identifications of children and parents. Catholic dominated over Protestant identification in interfaith marriages; this took priority over the Protestant mother's influence upon her child. Especially when the mother is Catholic, the children are Catholic. The Catholic parent is more influential for the daughter's identification than for the son's. When the mother is conservative Protestant, the children are more likely to be Protestant than when she is liberal Protestant. Conservative Protestant-Catholic marriages have higher rates of religious "nones" for sons than daughters. In a family with only one parent with a religious identification, the child is more likely to have no religious identity if it is the mother who has no identification. Trends in society are discussed relative to their impact on interfaith marriage and the religious identification of the children.

I'm also wondering if this trend can explain religious trends in history. For example, the early spread of Christianity within the Roman Empire came largely at the expense of Mithraism. The biggest difference between the practice of Christianity and the practice of Mithraism? Mithraism disallowed females from practicing, but Christianity encouraged it. Fathers passing down their religion to their sons was simply not a competitive enough model for religious propagation.
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I'm not sure how exactly Christianity had spread in Roman Empire, but generally speaking you are right on money.

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