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Executive Summary:

Religious Practice and Educational Attainment

[Originally published September, 2010]

Over the last decade, research on the effects of religious practice has expanded. It now encompasses such areas as health, overcoming addictions, reducing crime, and reforming criminals. Cover stories in popular magazines have brought some of this research to public notice.

For public policy, one of the most important potential effects of religious practice is educational attainment. Education is widely recognized as the way to maintain the well-being of those born into the middle class. It is also a powerful tool to raise individuals out of poverty. As a result, nations have developed long-term educational strategies as an integral part of their economic development. If religious practice were to have a significantly positive role in education, then the practice of religion would have profound implications for world economies and societies.

This review of the effect of religious practice on educational outcomes has two main sections. The first section examines the effects of religious practice on educational performance. The second categorizes the pathways by which religious practice achieves these effects. These pathways include the inner dynamics of the child (internal locus of control, expectations of oneself, discipline, habits, and work effort), the marital life of parents and the family life they build together (marital stability and family satisfaction, family income and parental expectations), church activities (worship in congregations, social networks gained, and extracurricular activities in church affiliated organizations), and such dynamics as ethnic religion for immigrants or the protectiveness that religion provides against risky behaviors that derail educational advancement.

Finally, this review examines some of the negative effects that certain types of religious practice can have on educational attainment. These effects often manifest themselves in marginal areas or populations, and can be significantly negative.