Taking Kids to Church Matters More Than the ‘Right’ School, Study Suggests

Taking Kids to Church Matters More Than the ‘Right’ School, Study Suggests by STEFANI MCDADE for Christianity Today

Even faith-based education has less impact than religious attendance.

Public health expert Tyler VanderWeele, who coauthored the cover story for our November print issue, recently analyzed how four school categories—public, private, religious, and homeschool—might affect the long-term well-being of adolescents.

VanderWeele and his team at Harvard examined a large swath of data, collected over more than a decade, which tracked the development of 12,000 nurses’ children into their young adulthood. The longitudinal study surveyed social, physical, and mental health trends across the group—like substance abuse, anxiety/depression, community engagement, and sexual activity.

The team’s analysis was published recently in PLoS ONE, and some of their findings were surprising.

In comparing key health indicators, the researchers found little difference between the long-term well-being of adolescents who attended public school and those who went to private school. (All of the kids who participated were between the ages of 9-14 when the study began.)

“We didn’t go in having any clear expectations, but we certainly didn’t expect to find basically nothing—which is what we found,” VanderWeele said. “We found relatively little difference comparing public and private schools across a whole host of outcomes.”

There was, however, a noted difference between the kids who attended public school and those who were homeschooled.

“We found a lot of positive, beneficial outcomes of homeschooling,” VanderWeele said.

Their data showed that homeschooled kids were more likely to volunteer, forgive others, possess a sense of mission and purpose, and have notably fewer lifetime sexual partners.

Homeschoolers were also 51 percent more likely to frequently attend religious services into their young adulthood. “It is quite possible that a lot of homeschooling parents were religious or did this for religious reasons, but we unfortunately don’t have data on the content of the curriculum,” VanderWeele said.

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