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When “Sacred and Sexual” Are a Toxic Mix

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In my thirty years of dealing with data on marriage and worship I have never come across anything like what I discuss today:  the interface between worship and sexuality for teenage boys and girls whose parents have divorced or remarried.  On all other outcomes measured,  the more people worship, the greater their benefits and the lower their deficits, but not here.

For a teenage boy, the removal of his father from his home through divorce, has volcanic effects on his relationships with girls if he worships God weekly.  For a girl it is not so much the removal of her father that has the worst effect on her  but the replacement of her father by another man if she worships God weekly.  These two related upheavals viciously subvert the effects of their worship of God, because the more they worship God, the more they violate Him — by violating others — in that dimension at  the heart of life, the sexual.  No wonder God really hates divorce.[1]

From the US federal data system, (the largest national data system in the world) we know that those who worship God weekly do best on every outcome, and those who worship Him least (“couple of times a year” or “never” ) do worst on all outcomes.  This holds for both adults and for children and therefore for the population in general.

You can view a sampler of the Mapping America results, or the whole demographic collection, but for brevity sake a few examples of the general pattern of effects follow.  That pattern is  invariable: the worship of God is  correlated with good effects while  decreasing worship correlates with bad effects.

But for the hapless teenage sons and daughters of divorced or remarried parents life is different.  (Hapless in that they had no control over what the “fleeing or expelling” parent did and are the passive recipients of the experience of divorce handed them by a parent or both parents.) 

For boys here is the chart from Add Health Wave II, using the largest sample of teenagers  of any federal survey (14,738 sample size).   When the full sample is looked at from the major categories of worship and family structure the results follow the normal pattern:

However, with boys who worship weekly in father-absent divorced families we get the very opposite:

The more they worship God the more they sexually violate girls.   For girls who worship weekly, it is not divorce, but remarriage that looms large in violations:

Comparing boys and girls side by highlights the disturbed psyches of male and female teenagers:

The “sexual intercourse with the opposite sex” is much greater for boys than for girls.  The effects of these trysts are powerful: their future marriages are much more likely to break up within five years, as the following chart shows:

Nowhere in the social sciences have I seen outcomes like these.  In this sole instance, the most frequent worship of God is correlated with an increase in a serious evil by Christian standards, keeping in mind that the majority of these weekly worshipping teenagers being Christian. 

 Had all these teenagers been granted their fundamental human right — to the marriage of their biological parents[1] — the violation of girls would be  much less.  The loss of chastity for girls would have been enormously reduced just by the normal human strengths that are conferred (socially constructed in today’s parlance) when the local community is composed of intact families that worship God weekly. From the chart immediately above it is reasonable to conclude that for from intact marriages where the family worships weekly, trysts above the red line would likely not have happened.  And with only one sexual partner (the average in this data for those in intact marriage families that worship God weekly), should they have gone on to marry each other (not uncommon in the 1950’s and earlier) their marriages would most likely have endured – because they would have been monogamous! 

Combining the two charts immediately above, we get some idea of the intergenerational impact of divorce on society, through its impact on the sexual behavior of the boys and girls affected.  Furthermore, the damage is intergenerational. It goes on and one.  The grandchildren of the divorced parents are much more likely to be subjected to the same experience over and over…though by then many families will have stopped worshipping God (divorce dumbs down the rate and type of worship that the family engages in[2]).   Given present family structures (see chart immediately below[3]), it is no wonder we live in a era of sexual chaos.  And it is not the teenagers’ fault.

What is it about divorce that seems to make the worship of God toxic? From myriad studies we know that the father’s role is paramount in the formation of sexual integrity in his sons and daughters.  But when he takes his sexuality outside the marriage, and especially when it is disrupts altogether through divorce  “all hell breaks loose” in the sexual core of his children. Surprisingly, the more frequently they worship God the greater that “hell” is.

A Freudian perspective helps makes sense. Though the boy may not be aware of it,  tension mounts within him when he goes to worship God the Father while his earthly father has abandoned him.  He seeks release by copying his earthly  father: leaving one woman to bed the next —  again and again. The more he comes to God his Father, the more women he will bed. Where else in human behavior does the keeping of one commandment increase the breaking of another?  What evil dynamic is in play?  Anger at God turned into exploitation of women?  Insights into that dark world fail me here.

The toxic mix of the father’s (or mother’s) shattering of marriage — the most sacred and sexual of earthly covenants— on his children, coupled with his children’s weekly journey to God the Father, yields a witches brew.   There is a real need to solve this mystery — depth psychologists working closely with pastors who have a special heart for these wounded teenage boys and girls.

[1] Malachi 2:16 

[2] See Fagan, P and Suanders, W:  The Universal, Inalienable Right of the Child to the Marriage of His Biological Parents,  BYU Journal of Public Law, Vol 32, Issue #2, 2018.  (Just released, not yet available online.  Online journal site:  https://digitalcommons.law.byu.edu/jpl/all_issues.html)

[3] See Fagan, P.  and Rector, R  “The Effects of Divorce on America”, (2004), The Heritage Foundation (summary).  Full article available at   https://www3.nd.edu/~afreddos/papers/fagan-divorce.htm

[4] You can derive this chart and 5,000 other charts  by using the tool box / dashboard at http://marri.us/decomp-family/

“The Rich Black Kid”

Tags: , , , black family, economy, education, family, family structure, fathers, intact family, MARRI, marriage, Uncategorized No comments

Picture a 4-year-old black boy walking down the street holding his father’s. He is asking his father a question and the back and forth is clearly animated. His father is obviously enjoying it.

This boy is rich.

Picture a 7-year-old black girl helping her mother who is sweeping the porch and asking her to move piece of furniture. The mother is cracking a joke and her daughter is laughing.

This girl is rich.

Picture this girl teaching her younger brother how to play checkers. She lets him beat her and enjoys his yelp of triumph. She lets him know she won’t let him win anymore.

These are rich kids.

Picture their family dinner. It always starts with a short prayer from each member of the family. Each one gives thanks to God for a blessing they experienced that day.

This is family is rich.

Picture the father and mother waving goodbye to their daughter and son as they walk down the sidewalk, going out on their monthly date night. The mother has cracked a joke that has her husband overcome by laughter.

This is a very rich couple.

Their kids are some of the richest children in America.

How many black kids are that rich?

Can we dream of every black child having a father and mother like that? What would it take to have that dream for every black child?

Can we dream really big? Can Black America dream? Can America dream?

What does it take to dream that big?

Can a great nation dream? Can liberals dream? Can conservatives dream? Can religious people dream that dream? Can atheists dream that dream? Can “nones” dream that dream?

Let us have a nation of rich black kids!

Despite declines in religious practice and in marital rates, these two institutions continue to be instrumental to attaining educational, economic, and relational security.

Alternative practices and family structures do not yield the same outcomes.

For the good of the black, the Latino, and the child of every race- the future of America,

Pat Fagan & Maria Archer

Religious Attendance, Family Structure and School Performance of U.S. High School Students

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American high school students from intact families that worship frequently have as a group the highest Grade Point Average (GPA) for English and math combined.

Teenagers who live in intact families that worship weekly score a combined GPA of 2.9. Students who worship at least monthly but reside in families not headed by both biological parents score a combined 2.7 GPA, as do students who live in a family with both natural parents but who worship less than monthly. Those who are not living with both biological parents and who worship less than monthly have the lowest GPA (2.5).

Other Studies

Several other studies also reveal significant correlations among religious attendance, intact family structure, and educational performance. Examining the National Education Longitudinal Study, Jerry Trusty at Texas A&M University and Richard Watts of Baylor University report that “the more frequently [high school seniors] attended religious activities, the more likely they were to have parents who were involved in their lives and gave recognition to good grades, to have high expectations for the future and to have a positive attitude toward academics, and to spend more time on homework.”1

Chandra Muller and Christopher Ellison of the University of Texas at Austin concur in their finding that “youths who were more religiously involved were more likely to report that their parents had high expectations for their education and were more likely to talk with their parents about school.”2

Having natural married parents to talk with about school makes an even bigger difference, according to a study by Nan Astone of Johns Hopkins University and Sara McLanahan of Princeton University. “Children of single or stepparents reported that their parents had lower educational expectations for them, compared to reports from children in intact families. The former group also reported that their parents are less likely to monitor schoolwork … compared to reports from children in intact families.”3

The combination, then, of an intact married family with frequent religious activity seems key to fostering superior educational outcomes. Diane Brown of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and Lawrence Gary of Howard University conducted a survey of black adults in a major Eastern city, a demographic in which broken families are quite prevalent, which indicates that although “religious socialization had a stronger impact on educational attainment than did family structure, … at the highest levels of religious socialization, educational attainment was higher for those individuals who grew up with both parents. In other words, the impact on education was greatest when there was an intact family and high religious attendance.4

When the two great loves are combined, love of God and love of spouse, children thrive most.

1 Jerry Trusty and Richard E. Watts, “Relationship of High School Seniors’ Religious Perceptions and Behavior to Educational, Career, and Leisure Variables,” Counseling and Values 44 (1999): 30-40.

2 Chandra Muller and Christopher G. Ellison, “Religious Involvement, Social Capital, and Adolescents’ Academic Progress: Evidence from the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988,” Sociological Focus 34 (2001): 155-183.

3 Nan M. Astone and Sara S. McLanahan, “Family Structure, Parental Practices, and High School Completion,” American Sociological Review 56 (1991): 309-320.

4 Diane R. Brown and Lawrence E. Gary, “Religious Socialization and Educational Attainment among African Americans: An Empirical Assessment,” The Journal of Negro Education 60 (1991): 411-426.

Religious Attendance and Expulsion or Suspension from School

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Adolescents who worship at least weekly are least likely to be expelled or suspended from school.

According to the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, Waves I and II, 21 percent of students in Grades 7-12 who worship at least weekly have ever been suspended or expelled. By contrast, almost 39 percent of adolescents who never worship have been suspended or expelled. In between are those who attend services one to three times a month (27.6 percent) and those who attend services less than once a month (30.4 percent).

Other Studies

Very little research has been done on the correlation between religious attendance and suspension or expulsion from school, but what research exists corroborates the direction of these findings.

In a 2002 study, Christian Smith and Robert Faris of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that only 17.8 percent of high school seniors who attended religious services weekly or more had ever been expelled or suspended. By contrast, 31.8 percent of seniors who never attended religious services had been expelled or suspended. In between are those who attended services once or twice a month (23.4 percent) and those who attended “rarely” (27.9 percent).[2]

Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas at Austin and Glen Elder of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill also reported that religious attendance reduces the likelihood of expulsion or suspension.[3]

Jerry Trusty of Texas A&M University and Richard Watts of Baylor University examined religion and delinquency data in the National Education Longitudinal Study[4] and found that high school seniors who frequently attended religious activities were less likely to be delinquent than those who do not attend church frequently.[5]

As the evidence shows, students who spend more time in church are likely to spend more time in school.

Patrick F. Fagan, Ph.D.
Senior Fellow
Director of the Center for Family and Religion
Family Research Council

[1] This chart draws on a large national sample (16,000) from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. This work was done by the author in cooperation with former colleagues at The Heritage Foundation, Washington, D.C.

[2] Christian Smith and Robert Faris, Religion and American Adolescent Delinquency, Risk Behaviors and Constructive Social Activities (Chapel Hill, N.C.: National Study of Youth and Religion, 2002): 40-41.

[3] Mark D. Regnerus and Glen H. Elder, “Staying on Track in School: Religious Influences in High- and Low-Risk Settings,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, vol. 42 (2003): 633-649.

[4] The delinquency data included school suspensions, arrests, and time spent in juvenile centers.

[5] Jerry Trusty and Richard E. Watts, “Relationship of High School Seniors’ Religious Perceptions and Behavior to Educational, Career, and Leisure Variables,” Counseling and Values, vol. 44 (1999): 30-40.

Family Structure and Expulsion or Suspension from School

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Adolescents who live in an intact married family are least likely to be expelled or suspended from school.

According to the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, Waves I and II, 20 percent of students in Grades 7-12 who live with their married, biological parents have ever been suspended or expelled from school. By contrast, more than 50 percent of adolescents who live with a single, never-married parent have ever been suspended or expelled. In between are those who live with two biological cohabiting parents (34.3 percent), those living with a step-parent (35.9 percent), those whose parents are divorced (37 percent), and those who live with one biological cohabiting parent (40.8 percent).

Other Studies

Several other studies corroborate the direction of these findings. Christine Winquist Nord of Westat and Jerry West of the National Center for Education Statistics reported that students living with both biological parents “are less likely to have behavior problems at school that result in their being suspended or expelled.”[2]

John Hoffman of Brigham Young University also found that the incidence of problem behaviors, including fighting, being arrested, and getting expelled or suspended, was much lower among adolescents living with both biological parents than within any other family structure.[3]

Cesar Rebellon of the University of New Hampshire examined five measures of delinquency data from the National Youth Survey, including truancy and interpersonal aggression, and found that adolescent boys (and to a lesser extent, adolescent girls) living with divorced parents had higher delinquency scores than adolescents from intact married families.[4]

In a study of youth in Edinburgh, Scotland, David Smith and Susan McVie of the University of Edinburgh found that adolescents living with a mother and stepfather or in single-parent homes were more delinquent[5] than those living with both biological parents.[6]

The data clearly indicate that adolescents who live with both parents are more likely to be in school and less likely to be suspended or expelled.

Patrick F. Fagan, Ph.D.
Senior Fellow
Director of the Center for Family and Religion
Family Research Council

[1] This chart draws on a large national sample (16,000) from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. This work was done by the author in cooperation with former colleagues at The Heritage Foundation, Washington, D.C.

[2] Christine Winquist Nord and Jerry West, “Fathers’ and Mothers’ Involvement in Their Children’s Schools by Family Type and Resident Status,” National Household Education Survey (May 2001): 31-32.

[3] John P. Hoffman, “Family Structure, Community Context, and Adolescent Problem Behaviors,” Journal of Youth and Adolescence, vol. 35 (2006): 867-880.

[4] Cesar J. Rebellon, “Do Adolescents Engage in Delinquency to Attract the Social Attention of Peers? An Extension and Longitudinal Test of the Social Reinforcement Hypothesis,” Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, vol. 43 (2006): 387-411.

[5] Two of the fifteen delinquency measures used included theft at school and truancy.

[6] David J. Smith and Susan McVie, “Theory and Method in the Edinburgh Study of Youth Transitions and Crime,” British Journal of Criminology, vol. 42 (2003): 169-195. This finding is from www.familyfacts.org .

Religious Attendance, Family Structure, and Expulsion or Suspension from School

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Adolescents from intact families who worship frequently are the least likely to be expelled or suspended from school.

This chart depicts the percentage of adolescents in Grades 7-12 who have ever been suspended or expelled from school, correlated with their religious attendance and family structure. Only 17.3 percent of adolescent students who are living with both biological parents and worship at least monthly have ever been suspended or expelled from school. By contrast, 46.7 percent who worship less than monthly and come from single-parent or reconstituted families have been expelled or suspended. In between are those who live with both biological parents and worship less than monthly (25.5 percent) and those in non-intact families who worship at least monthly (32.5 percent). The data are taken from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, Waves I and II.

Other Studies[2]

Though little additional research has been done on the correlation of religious attendance, family structure, and expulsion or suspension from school, several studies corroborate the direction of these findings.

Wendy Manning of Bowling Green State University and Kathleen Lamb of the University of Wisconsin reported that adolescents who were more religious were less likely to be suspended or expelled, as were adolescents who lived with their married parents.[3]

Bryon Johnson of Baylor University and colleagues analyzed delinquency data from the National Youth Survey, which included delinquency measures such as “damaged school property,” “hit teacher,” “hit students,” and “skipped classes.” They found that adolescent religiosity was associated with lower levels of delinquency and that adolescents who lived with both biological parents were less likely to associate with delinquent friends.[4]

Jerry Trusty of Texas A&M University and Richard Watts of Baylor University found that the more often adolescents attended religious activities and the greater importance they gave to religion, the more likely they were to have involved parents and the less likely they were to be delinquent.[5]

When it comes to keeping adolescents from being expelled, the intact married family that worships weekly earns the best marks.

Patrick F. Fagan, Ph.D.
Senior Fellow
Director of the Center for Family and Religion
Family Research Council

[1] This chart draws on a large national sample (16,000) from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. This work was done by the author in cooperation with former colleagues at The Heritage Foundation, Washington, D.C.

[2] The following findings are from www.familyfacts.org.

[3] Wendy D. Manning and Kathleen A. Lamb, “Adolescent Well-Being in Cohabiting, Married, and Single-Parent Families,” Journal of Marriage and Family, vol. 65 (2003): 876-893.

[4] Byron R. Johnson, et al., “Does Adolescent Religious Commitment Matter? A Reexamination of the Effects of Religiosity on Delinquency,” vol. 38 (2001): 22-44.

[5] Jerry Trusty and Richard E. Watts, “Relationship of High School Seniors’ Religious Perceptions and Behavior to Educational, Career, and Leisure Variables,” Counseling and Values, vol. 44 (1999): 30-40. The three delinquency measures derived from the National Education Longitudinal Study included school suspensions, arrests, and time spent in juvenile centers.

Repeating a Grade and Religious Attendance

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This chart is taken from a study conducted by Nicholas Zill, Ph.D.[1] for Family Research Council.[2]

Children who attend worship at least monthly are less likely to repeat a grade than those who worship less frequently.

According to the National Survey of Children’s Health, children who attend religious services one to three times a month and those who attend every week are only half as likely to have ever repeated a grade in school as those who attend less than one a month or not at all. The respective rates of grade repetition found in the survey were 10.2 percent for those attending weekly, 8.7 percent for those attending at least monthly but less than weekly, 20.7 percent for those attending less than once a month, and 20.6 percent for those who did not attend at all in the last year.

The difference in grade repetition rates between those attending services weekly and monthly was inconsequential, as was the difference in rates between those attending less than monthly and not at all.

Other Studies

While at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Mark Regnerus found that “youth church participation positively affects both educational aspirations and achievement.”[3]

Glen Elder of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Rand Conger of Iowa State University reported that adolescents who become more religiously involved in high school tend to score higher on academic competence indicators.[4]

Regnerus, now at the University of Texas at Austin, and Elder also found that “church attendance exhibits a stable relationship with educational progress.”[5]

As the data indicate, students who attend religious services at least monthly are more likely to excel academically and much less likely to repeat a grade.

Nicholas Zill, Ph.D.
Research Psychologist
Former Vice President of Westat
Founding President of Child Trends

[1] Nicholas Zill is a research psychologist and consultant. Until his recent retirement, he was a vice president of Westat Inc. He was the founder of Child Trends and its executive director for 13 years.

[2] This chart draws on data collected by the National Center for Health Statistics in the National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH) in 2003. The data sample consisted of parents of 102,353 children and teens in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. 68,996 of these children and teens were between six and 17 years old, the age group that was the focus of the study. The survey sample in this age range represented a population of nearly 49 million young people nationwide.

[3] Mark D. Regnerus, “Shaping Schooling Success: Religious Socialization and Educational Outcomes in Metropolitan Public Schools,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, vol. 39 (2000): 363-370.

[4] Glen H. Elder Jr. and Rand D. Conger, Children of the Land (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 159-160.

[5] Mark D. Regnerus and Glen H. Elder Jr., “Staying on Track in School: Religious Influences in High- and Low-Risk Settings,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, vol. 42 (2003): 633-649.

Repeating a Grade and Family Structure

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This chart is taken from a study conducted by Nicholas Zill, Ph.D.[1] for Family Research Council.[2]

Children who live with both biological parents or two adoptive parents are less likely to repeat a grade than those who do not.

According to the National Survey of Children’s Health, children who live with both biological parents or two adoptive parents are only one third as likely to have ever repeated a grade in school as those who living with their mother only, with one biological parent and a stepparent,[3] or in other family configurations, such as with their father only or with foster parents.[4] The respective rates of grade repetition found in the survey were 6.5 percent for those living with both parents, 19.9 percent for those living with mother only, 21.8 percent for those living with a parent and stepparent, and 21.9 percent for those living in other family configurations.

The difference in grade repetition rates between those living with mother only and those living with a birth parent and stepparent, while statistically significant, was relatively minor.

Other Studies

Nicholas Zill found similar differences in grade repetition rates between children of ages 7-17 living with their mother and father and those living with their mother only or with mother and stepfather in an analysis of data from the 1988 National Health Interview Survey on Child Health.[5]

Several other studies corroborate these findings. Robert Byrd of the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry and colleagues reported that students in two-parent households are less likely to repeat a grade than those in one-parent households.[6]

Hak-Ju Kim of Washington University in St. Louis also found that children living with two biological parents are less likely to repeat a grade than those living with single parents or stepparents. Children living with single parents, though, are slightly more likely to repeat a grade than those living with a stepparent.[7]

Examining the National Study of Adolescent Health, Paul Amato of Pennsylvania State University reported that 30 percent of adolescents living with single parents have repeated a grade, compared to 19 percent of adolescents living with married parents.[8]

When it comes to keeping children on schedule academically, the intact family proves to be the most effective family structure.

Nicholas Zill, Ph.D.
Research Psychologist
Former Vice President of Westat
Founding President of Child Trends

[1] Nicholas Zill is a research psychologist and consultant. Until his recent retirement, he was a vice president of Westat Inc. He was the founder of Child Trends and its executive director for 13 years.

[2] This chart draws on data collected by the National Center for Health Statistics in the National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH) in 2003. The data sample consisted of parents of 102,353 children and teens in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. 68,996 of these children and teens were between six and 17 years old, the age group that was the focus of the study. The survey sample in this age range represented a population of nearly 49 million young people nationwide.

[3] Most of the parents in the “biological parent and a stepparent” category are married.

[4] “Other family configurations” also include children living with grandparent or other relatives.

[5] Nicholas Zill, “Family Change and Student Achievement: What We Have Learned, What It Means for Schools,” in Family-School Links: How Do They Affect Educational Outcomes, eds. Alan Booth and Judith F. Dunn (Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1996): 139-174.

[6] Robert S. Byrd, Michael Weitzman, and Peggy Auinger, “Increased Behavior Problems Associated with Delayed School Entry and Delayed School Progress,” Pediatrics, vol. 100 (1997): 654-661.

[7] Hak-Ju Kim, “Family Resources and Children’s Academic Performance,” Children and Youth Services Review, vol. 26 (2004): 529-536.

[8] Paul R. Amato, “The Impact of Family Formation Change on the Cognitive, Social, and Emotional Well-Being of the Next Generation,” The Future of Children, vol. 15 (2005): 75-96.

Repeating a Grade, Religious Attendance, and Family Structure

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This chart is taken from a study conducted by Nicholas Zill, Ph.D.[1] for Family Research Council.[2]

Children from intact families who frequently attend worship are least likely to repeat a grade in school.

This chart depicts the percentage of children aged 6 to 17 who have repeated a grade in school, correlated with religious attendance and family structure. Only six percent of children who worship frequently and live with both biological parents or with two adoptive parents have repeated a grade. By contrast, 34 percent of children who worship less than monthly and live in single-parent or reconstituted families have repeated a grade. In between are those who live in intact families and worship less than monthly (eight percent) and those who live in non-intact families who worship at least monthly (15 percent). The data are taken from the National Survey of Children’s Health.

Other Studies

Several other studies corroborate the direction of these findings. Mavis Sanders of Johns Hopkins University and Jerald Herting of the University of Washington reported that parental involvement and church support are significant positive predictors of black male adolescents’ attitudes toward their academic capabilities and also have a positive indirect effect on their academic achievement.[3]

In a study of Asian-American students from the National Educational Longitudinal Study (NELS), Sampson Lee Blair and Zhenchao Qian of Arizona State University found a significant correlation between Catholicism and educational performance among Southeast Asians and Filipinos and also that fewer than ten percent of these Southeast Asian and Filipino students come from single-parent families.[4]

As the evidence indicates, children who are religiously active, come from intact families, and have involved parents are more likely to excel academically.

Nicholas Zill, Ph.D.
Research Psychologist
Former Vice President of Westat
Founding President of Child Trends

[1] Nicholas Zill is a research psychologist and consultant. Until his recent retirement, he was a vice president of Westat Inc. He was the founder of Child Trends and its executive director for 13 years.

[2] This chart draws on data collected by the National Center for Health Statistics in the National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH) in 2003. The data sample consisted of parents of 102,353 children and teens in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. 68,996 of these children and teens were between six and 17 years old, the age group that was the focus of the study. The survey sample in this age range represented a population of nearly 49 million young people nationwide.

[3] Mavis G. Sanders and Jerald R. Herting, “Gender and the Effects of School, Family, and Church Support on the Academic Achievement of African-American Urban Adolescents,” Schooling Students Placed at Risk: Research, Policy, and Practice in the Education of Poor and Minority Adolescents, ed. Mavis G. Sanders (Philadelphia: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2000), 141-161.

[4] Sampson Lee Blair and Zhenchao Qian, “Family and Asian Students’ Educational Performance: A Consideration of Diversity,” Journal of Family Issues, vol. 19 (1998): 355-374.

Parental Concerns about Children’s Achievement by Religious Attendance

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This chart is taken from a study conducted by Nicholas Zill, Ph.D.[1] for Family Research Council.[2]

Religious attendance has very little impact and, if anything, may slightly raise parental concerns about their children’s achievement.[3]

Description: According to the National Survey of Children’s Health,

children who attend religious services less than once a month have parents with the lowest parental concerns score (49.4);
children who never attend religious services have parents with a parental concerns score of 49.9;
children who attend religious services at least weekly have parents with a parental concerns score of 50.1;
children who worship one to three times a month have parents with the highest parental concerns score (50.2).

It is worth noting that “concern” is often a good indicator of parental attentiveness, especially in a hostile environment. Thus the scores above make sense and are in line with other less “contra-factual” data in this series.

Related Insights from Other Studies

Several other studies, however, demonstrate that parents with children involved in religious activities, at least within minority communities, generally need not be anxious about their children’s achievement.

Leslie Gutman and Vonnie McLoyd of the University of Michigan found that high-achieving black students participated in more religious activities, such as choir and Bible study, than low-achieving black students.[4]

William Jeynes of the University of Chicago also reported that “very religious Black and Hispanic students outperformed less religious students in academic achievement.”[5]

Several previous issues of Mapping America (40, 52) showed that children who worship at least monthly are less likely to repeat a grade and less likely to be the object of a “behavior problems” call from their school to their parents than children who worship less frequently.[6]

Though children’s religious attendance seems to have little bearing on parental concerns about their children’s achievement, the evidence indicates that religiously involved students are less likely to give their parents cause for concern about their achievement in the first place.

Nicholas Zill, Ph.D.
Research Psychologist
Former Vice President of Westat
Founding President of Child Trends

[1] Nicholas Zill is a research psychologist and consultant. Until his recent retirement, he was a vice president of Westat Inc. He was the founder of Child Trends and its executive director for 13 years.

[2] This chart draws on data collected by the National Center for Health Statistics in the National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH) in 2003. The data sample consisted of parents of 102,353 children and teens in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. 68,996 of these children and teens were between six and 17 years old, the age group that was the focus of the study. The survey sample in this age range represented a population of nearly 49 million young people nationwide.

[3] It is worth noting the contrast between this finding and the noticeable impact family structure seems to have on parental concerns about children’s achievement in Mapping America 68: Parental Concerns about Children’s Achievement by Family Structure (Washington, D.C.: Family Research Council, 2009), www.mappingamericaproject.org.

[4] Leslie Morrison Gutman and Vonnie C. McLoyd, “Parents’ Management of Their Children’s Education within the Home, at School, and in the Community: An Examination of African-American Families Living in Poverty,” The Urban Review 32 (2000): 1-24.

[5] William H. Jeynes, “The Effects of Religious Commitment on the Academic Achievement of Black and Hispanic Children,” Urban Education 34 (1999): 458-79.

[6] Mapping America 40: Repeating a Grade and Religious Attendance and Mapping America 52: Parents Contacted by School about Their Children’s Behavior Problems and Religious Attendance (Washington, D.C.: Family Research Council, 2009), www.mappingamericaproject.org.