Do kids who go to church do better at school?
Absolutely and the effect is dramatic, writes Dr. Pat Fagan. In a study just released, he cites independent findings by more than 100 social scientists who have published their own studies over the last two decades establishing the profound effect that attending church has on kids’ performance at school.
Church kids have higher grade point averages – scoring 14.4 percent higher than non-attenders. Church kids also spend more time on their homework, according to the studies.
Dr. Fagan is the director of the Center for Research on Marriage and Religion and Senior Fellow at the Marriage and Religion Research Institute in Washington, D.C.
His findings show that church attendance is one of the most effective ways to impact low-income students. Additionally, 75 percent of college students who become more committed to their faith during their college years perform above average.
In his report, "Religious Practice and Educational Attainment," he lists numerous scientific studies that show that a student with solid faith is able to deal with the conflicts affecting kids – and attain better academically, have better work habits and possess higher personal expectations of achievement.
Church-going kids have reduced "behavioral risks" such as drug abuse, gang membership, alcohol use or sexual experimentation.
His report is not light reading
The basis of his report is the findings of a large number of other researchers whose studies have confirmed the benefits of a personal faith.
For example, Dr. Fagan cites Chandra Muller and Christopher G. Ellison. Their study, "Religious Involvement, Social Capital, and Adolescents’ Academic Progress: Evidence from the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988," was published in 2001 in the journal Sociological Focus. Its findings were that religiously involved students spend more time on their homework and work harder in school.
That church-going students achieve more than non-churched kids was determined in a number of studies, including "Religion and the Well-Being of Adolescents," published in the Journal of Social Issues by M. J. Donahue and P.L. Benson, "Religion and Vulnerability Among Low-Risk Adolesecents," published in 2003 by Mark D. Regnerus and Glen H. Elder in Social Science Research, and in "Religious Involvement and Educational Outcomes: The Role of Social Capital and Extracurricular Participation," published in 2008 by J. L. Glanville, D. Sikkink, and E.I. Hernandez in Sociological Quarterly.
Why is all this research important?
We live in times in which long-established beliefs, such as that going to church is good for kids, is no longer assumed to be true.
Movies, TV shows and popular literature portray clergymen as sexual perverts, power-hungry tyrants and cult leaders. Church-going is seldom a norm in popular entertainment or literature. It is the rare TV family that regularly attends Sunday school. So Dr. Fagan set out to study whether the popular perception is true – that church is detrimental to kids. He found exactly the opposite. What is important is that he didn’t do the studies himself. His task was to compile the findings of scores of independent researchers.
"The overall impact of religious practice is illustrated dramatically" throughout the studies that he cites. Some 81 percent of published studies showed the positive benefit of religious practice, 15 percent showed neutral effects and only 4 percent showed harm. Each of these systematic reviews indicated more than 80 percent benefit, and none indicated more than 10 percent harm," reported Dr. Fagan.
"Looking specifically at math and reading scores, students who frequently attend religious services scored 2.32 points higher on tests in these subjects than their less religiously-involved peers," he found, citing a study by Regnerus titled "Shaping Schooling Success: Religious Socialization and Educational Outcomes in Metropolitan Public Schools," published in 2000 in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.
"Parents’ religious attendance is also a significant indicator," writes Dr. Fagan. He cites findings by Annebert Dijkstra and Jules L. Peschar reported in "Religious Determinants of Academic Attainment in the Netherlands," published in 1996 in the Comparative Education Review’s Special Issue on Religion. That study showed that Dutch students who held a strong Christian worldview and whose families attended religious services scored higher academically than those who did not.
Such findings point a clear path for America, says Dr. Fagan. "When policymakers consider America’s grave social problems, including violent crime and rising illegitimacy, substance abuse, and welfare dependency, they should heed the findings in the professional literature of the social sciences on the positive consequences that flow" from faithful church attendance.
Additionally, there is ample evidence that the strength of the family unit is intertwined with" involvement with a local congregation. Churchgoers are less likely to be divorced or single and more likely to manifest high levels of satisfaction in marriage.
Church helps kids escape poverty!
Regular church attendance is particularly instrumental in helping young people to escape the poverty of inner-city life.
"Religious belief and practice contribute substantially to the formation of personal moral criteria and sound moral judgment," he says. "Regular religious practice generally inoculates individuals against a host of social problems, including suicide, drug abuse, out-of-wedlock births, crime, and divorce.
"Over the last decade," he writes, "research on the effects of religious practice has expanded. It now encompasses such areas as health, overcoming addictions, reducing crime, and reforming criminals."
However, he draws attention to the impact that church attendance and the practice of sincere faith has on good grades and success at school.
"For public policy, one of the most important potential effects of religious practice is educational attainment," he writes. "For some time, a small but growing body of research has consistently indicated that the frequency of religious practice is directly and significantly correlated with academic outcomes and educational attainment."
"Children who have greater religious socialization also have increased levels of educational attainment," according to Diane R. Brown and Lawrence E. Gary in their article "Religious Socialization and Educational Attainment among African Americans: An Empirical Assessment," published in 1991 in The Journal of Negro Education.
Furthermore, reports Dr. Fagan, "those who become more religiously involved during their high school years increase their academic ranking." That finding was made by Glen H. Elder, Jr. and Rand D. Conger, in their book Children of the Land: Adversity and Success in Rural America, published by the University of Chicago Press in 2000. In that same book, "a study of Iowa families," writes Dr. Fagan, "discovered that youth who in eighth grade are religiously involved will have higher academic competence in the twelfth grade."
Christian Smith, director of the National Study of Youth and Religion and Professor of Sociology at Notre Dame University, drawing on work done by Muller, Ellison and Regnerus, noted that the influence of church attendance and favorable perceptions of religion result in "positive school attitudes" which are evident from childhood, through late adolescence and into college.
Dr. Fagan goes on to cite more than 100 other such research papers.
"Other studies," writes Dr. Fagan, "confirm religion’s beneficial effects on the academic performance of children in urban communities."
William Jeynes, Professor of Education at California State University Long Beach, found that "very religious" high school adolescents from urban communities fared better academically than non-religious adolescents.
Evidence contradicts Hollywood lies
The importance of Dr. Fagan’s report is that it serves as a valuable guide for parents wanting the best for their children.
Contrary to the popular image of Hollywood parents who encourage their children to be agnostic or atheist, parents who want their children to achieve will get them into church. Another study that Dr. Fagan cites showed that students attending "weekly religious services were less likely to use drugs or alcohol, to engage in delinquent behavior, to get in trouble at school or to have poor grades when compared with their peers who attended church less than monthly or not at all."
"Youth who considered religion to be fairly important or very important in their lives were less likely to engage in risky behavior. For many of these youth, church attendance reinforces messages about working hard and staying out of trouble, orients youth toward a positive future, and builds a transferable skill-set of commitments and routines."
"Interestingly," reports Dr. Fagan, "Carmel Chiswick, Professor of Economics at the of Illinois at Chicago, found that ‘people with high levels of religious human capital tend to select spouses who also have high levels, forming family units for which the home production of religious education is more efficient.’
"Frequent religious attendance is highly correlated with less sexual activity among those who are not married," wrote Dr. Fagan.
"Strong and repeated evidence indicates that the regular practice of religion has beneficial effects in nearly every aspect of social concern and policy. This evidence shows that religious practice protects against social disorder and dysfunction."
No other dimension of life in America does more to promote the well-being and soundness of the nation’s civil society than citizens’ regular attendance at church, says Dr. Fagan.
"As George Washington asserted," he concludes, "the success of the republic depends on the practice of religion by its citizens. These findings from 21st century social science support his observation."