A new study examines the impact of religion on disadvantaged children, finding that kids with religious parents experience less of the effects of child poverty.
Economics professors at Tufts, University of Wisconsin-Madison and Harvard surveyed 20,000 children, looking at the child's characteristics, their family income, parents' education, and parents' religious involvement. Thirteen to 15 years later, researchers measured the outcome, looking at the child's education, income, health, and psychological well-being.
They found that kids with religiously-involved parents are "less affected later in life by childhood disadvantage." The good effects of religious involvement were especially high when researchers measured disadvantage by family resources and maternal education and looked at outcomes like high school graduation or non-smoking. Other social organizations didn't have the same effect.
The study did not determine why religious involvement is good. It may be that religious organizations tutor disadvantaged kids or offer financial assistance, or it may be that they instill "motivation, values, or attitudes that lead to better outcomes." It is also hard to say whether the good effects come from religious practice itself, or from the fact that religious parents tend to have other good traits like self-discipline, community involvement, and mentoring skills.
Christine Kim, domestic policy analyst with the Heritage Foundation, told WoW she has seen religion have an immediate effect on educational outcomes: "Kids in disadvantaged neighborhoods actually benefit from participation in religious activities. … Those who participate do better in school, in achievement tests." They are also less likely to smoke and engage in risky or delinquent behavior.
Religion does not have the same effect on children in affluent neighborhoods and the reasons for the good effects are still unclear, Kim said. Still, "there's something about being in a faith community … that makes a difference."