OCTOBER 20, 2022 BY JANNA FIRESTONE
Parents everywhere attempt to find what will help their kids succeed in school and beyond. In recent studies, common factors such as gender, race, socioeconomic status, and parents’ education were all considered. Surprisingly, a strong faith in God proved to have a great impact on whether or not boys succeed in school.
As many want the best for their kids, parents have turned to extensive tutoring, competitive sports, extracurricular activities, and advanced placement (AP) classes to help their kids get better grades and get a jump on their college careers.
In a recent study, Ilana Horwitz, assistant professor at Tulane University and author of God, Grades, and Graduation, concluded that Christian boys perform better at school. In fact, “boys from lower middle-class families particularly benefit from religious restraint.”
“Teenage boys from working-class families, regardless of race, who were regularly involved in their church and strongly believed in God were twice as likely to earn bachelor’s degrees as moderately religious or nonreligious boys,” Horwitz shared in a guest essay for The New York Times.
THE STUDY: HOW FAITH IN GOD AFFECTS SCHOOL PERFORMANCE
She set out to gather data on more than 2,500 students and interviewed dozens of others for qualitative data beyond the numbers.
Horwitz explains how she approached the study. “Using nationally representative survey data and semi-structured interviews from the National Study of Youth and Religion, I test for and explain differences in GPAs of public school students based on different forms of religiosity” from “Abiders” (those with a strong, life-changing belief in God) to “Atheists.”
Students were classified as Abiders, Adapters, Assenters, Avoiders, and Atheists, to reflect their response to and relationship with God.
Horwitz posted a working paper, “The Abider-Avoider Achievement Gap: The Association Between Religiosity and GPA in Public Schools,” summarizing data from her 10 years of research.
“Religion is a powerful social force—it influences how Americans vote, where they choose to live, where they spend their Sunday mornings, who their friends are, how much time they spend with family, and how happy they are…,” Horwitz said. “Yet when sociologists explore the role of background characteristics on education, they largely ignore religion.”
Typically, studies focus on economic status, access to resources, and parental support, all viable factors in how a child performs in school. But, the research Horwitz conducted has revealed a strong correlation between faith in God and school success.
STUDY FINDS THAT BOYS WHO LIVE OUT A STRONG FAITH IN GOD ALSO ACHIEVE ACADEMIC SUCCESS
While it’s typically just Christian boys from middle-class families who earn better grades, the findings also included girls.
“Religious girls from working-class families also see educational benefits compared with less religious girls, but there are other factors that help them be academically successful outside of religion,” Horwitz explained. “Girls are socialized to be conscientious and compliant, have an easier time developing social ties with family members and peers, and are less prone to get caught up in risky behaviors.”
“I find that Abiders report the highest GPAs while Avoiders [those who believe in God but avoid any personal action] report the lowest GPAs, even after controlling for a host of background factors and behaviors. Furthermore, middle-class students benefit the most from being religiously engaged.”
Other factors such as race, class, and gender are all significantly associated with grades. “Net of all other factors, Abiders have an average GPA of 3.21, compared with 2.92 for Avoiders,” reports Horwitz.
Horwitz reported, “Among those raised in the working class, 21% of religious teenagers brought home report cards filled with A’s, compared with 9% of their less-religious peers.”
“I find that the effect of religiosity has the greatest effect on middle-class adolescents whose families earn between $40,000 and $90,000. This pattern holds even after controlling for race, gender, age, mother’s education level, and religious denomination.”
Horwitz further explains, “the students who benefit most from religious social capital are those who have the basic resources to function in school, but lack the advantages of affluent families.”
Many affluent families have greater access to programs and resources which propel their child’s success. These resources remain out of reach for lower-income families.
In her study, Horwitz described interview responses from dozens of students. Many boys shared a common hopelessness—whether economic, relational, or global. She concluded that “dozens of other boys in the study had a support system that insulated them from the hopelessness so many of their peers described.”
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR THE KIDS OF TODAY
Whether boys or girls, all students can benefit from the work of God in their lives. Whether learning how to navigate within a community or learning how to be responsible and considerate of others, living out a faith in God has far-reaching benefits.
“I argue that religious communities socialize adolescents to cultivate two habits highly valued in schools: conscientiousness and cooperation,” Horwitz explains. “The achievement gap between Abiders and Avoiders illustrates how public schools are structured to reward the very habits that religious students embody. This study pushes sociologists to consider religiosity as a missing paradigm in educational inequality.”
There are many ways for kids to learn conscientiousness and cooperation. Scouting programs, family dynamics, and community groups can all promote these basic human qualities. But, God offers self-control as one of the Spirit’s fruit cultivated in believers. (Galatians 5:22-23)
Horwitz further concludes, “Theological belief on its own is not enough to influence how children behave. Adolescents must believe and belong to be buffered against emotional, cognitive or behavioral despair.”
“I found that religion offers something that other extracurricular activities such as sports can’t: It prompts kids to behave in extremely conscientious and cooperative ways because they believe that God is both encouraging and evaluating them.”
Parents, your investment in your kids’ lives matters. They’re learning from you—what a faith in God looks like, how to navigate the mundane day-to-day tasks, what it takes to be a good friend, and how to be responsible in school. Most importantly, encourage them to receive God’s love and to share His love with those around them. That’s true success.