Intensely religious teens are more likely to excel at academics than their less religious peers, research conducted by a sociologist of religion and education has found, providing the latest evidence that the religious upbringing of teenagers has a powerful influence on their academic success.
Drawing on a decade of survey data and over 200 interviews with more than 3,000 teens, sociologist Ilana M. Horwitz concludes that intensely religious teens—referred to as “abiders” by some researchers—are more likely to earn higher GPAs. They are also more likely to attain a higher level of college education, not least because success in high school sets them up for success in college.
Over the past three decades, wrote Horwitz in a February 14 article, several studies have linked religiosity to academic success, showing that religious students earn better grades and attain more college education than less religious students.
“But researchers debate what these findings really mean,” Horwitz adds, “and whether the seeming effect of religiosity on students’ performance is really about religion, or a result of other underlying factors.”
Horwitz uses the term “religious intensity” to refer to people who consider religion very important in their lives, attend religious services at least once a week, pray daily at least once, and believe in God with absolute conviction.
“Theological belief on its own is not enough to influence how children behave,” she writes. “They also need to be part of a religious community. Adolescents who see an academic benefit both believe and belong.”
Scholars have theorized that “increased religiosity deters young people from risky behaviors, connects them to more adults and provides them more leadership opportunities. However, I found that including survey measures for these aspects of teens’ lives did not fully explain why abiders were earning better GPAs.”
Horowitz’s research, which is the subject of her book published in January 2022, Gods, Grades, and Graduation: Religion’s Surprising Impact on Academic Success, focuses on three measures: secondary school GPA; likelihood of completing college; and college selectivity.
Horowitz, who is an assistant professor and Fields-Rayant Chair of Contemporary Jewish Life at Tulane University in Louisiana, analyzed survey data collected from 3,290 teens from 2003 through 2012 by the National Study of Youth & Religion at the University of Notre Dame.
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