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Updated 10:00 AM June 22, 2009

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Older black men achieve prestige at church

Older black women may attend religious services more often than black men, but men spend more hours per week in other activities at church, a new university study found.

In addition to congregational activities — men's club, choir and bible study — men also perform various activities at the church, such as cleaning, cutting grass, opening and closing the building, and minor repairs.

"Churches may be a primary social outlet and sphere of productive activity for older black men, particularly those who are no longer active in the labor force," says Robert Taylor, professor at the School of Social Work and a faculty associate at the Research Center for Group Dynamics at the Institute for Social Research.

The church also serves as a venue for men to retain, or perhaps achieve, important work roles, status and prestige, even if they are not employed, he says.

Taylor and colleagues used data from the older black subsample of the National Survey of American Life. The study, which appears in the recent issue of Research on Aging, includes responses from 837 people aged 55 and older.

Participants were asked about their weekend religious participation, such as the frequency of going to places of worship, the number of hours spent there and activities they take part in at church.

Taylor says gender and marital status significantly are associated with the frequency of attending religious services.

Women usually participate in congregational activities, such as study groups, more often than men but spend less time in unstructured activities, including doing chores or talking with friends, the study found.

Divorced respondents are more likely than married respondents to indicate that they had not attended services since age 18. Never-married respondents say that they spent fewer hours at religious services than married respondents.

Taylor says religious communities provide opportunities for marital and family life counseling, as well as access to reference groups and individuals who model and reinforce shared values and behaviors relating to marital accord.

For many people who frequent church, their experience within religious settings may make them "less vulnerable to marital problems and marital dissolution compared with their counterparts who have not attended services as adults," Taylor says.

The study's other researchers are U-M's Linda Chatters and James Jackson, Kai Bullard of Northrop Grumman Corp. and John Wallace of the University of Pittsburgh.

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