American teenagers who attend religious services achieve higher than average results at school, feel more attached to their school as a community, and are significantly more likely to graduate than those who never go to church, a University of Iowa study has suggested.
Researchers found church attendance had a greater impact on class grade averages and graduation rates than whether a student’s parents had four-year university degrees. Jennifer Glanville, a sociologist in the college of liberal arts and sciences at the university, who led the study, said other research had noted a link between religious service attendance and positive educational outcomes in the United States, but this was the first one to look at why.
“Surprisingly, the importance of religion to teens had very little impact on their educational outcomes,” Ms. Glanville said. “That suggests that the act of attending church — the structure and the social aspects associated with it – could be more important to educational outcomes than the actual religion.”
The study suggested four reasons church-going teens tend to have more success at school. One of these is that they have regular contact with adults from various generations who serve as role models. Another reason is that the young people’s parents are more likely to communicate with their friends’ parents. Other factors at play are that teenagers who attend church develop friendships there with peers who have similar norms and values.
Ms. Glanville said of the results, “Some might say this suggests that parents should have their kids attend places of worship.” She added that the study could also help non-church attending parents. “If we use it to help explain why religious participation has a positive effect on academics, parents who aren’t interested in attending church can consider how to structure their kids’ time to allow access to the same beneficial social opportunities religious institutions provide.”
U.S. teens who do not attend religious services have a 60 per cent greater chance of dropping out of school, according to Ms. Glanville. Religious-service attendance has the same effect across all major denominations, the research showed.
For the study, Ms. Glanville and colleagues David Sikkink and Edwin Hernandez of the University of Notre Dame analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a nationally representative sample of students from grade 7 to grade 12 (final year), and it began in 1994. Students from 132 schools in 80 communities participated.
Researchers also found that U.S. teenagers who attended church were also more likely to have friends with higher grades, and that they skipped school less often, Ms. Glanville said.