There is a causal association between Christians and success as defined by multiple measures. For example, there is a causal significant association between Christianity and economic achievement. Christians are better educated, graduate more frequently from high school and college, get into less legal trouble as a youth, are less depressed or anxious with fewer mental health issues, and more frequently achieve prestigious jobs than their non-religious counterparts.
Society may have many definitions of success; by more measures, Christians achieve more of it.
Christians have been at the forefront of education in the western world. The very effective homeschooling movement based primarily on the intent of religious parents to maximize their children’s education, particularly in areas where public education is poor.
The early Puritans of New England were very attentive to their children’s education and the effectiveness of the local schoolmasters.
Religious students have a superior level of academic achievement however it is measured. Compared with less religious or atheist students, religious student,
- score higher on achievement tests,
- get better grades,
- are more likely to do their homework,
- are less likely to get expelled or suspended from school,
- are less likely to drop out of school and more likely to graduate from high school
These findings are not disputed although it is disputed why these differences exist. Some have proposed that these results do not necessarily indicate a causal association between religious belief and academic achievement, but rather that their parents are more financially successful and more involved in the child’s education.
Considerable effort has been expended by secular social scientists and others to try to determine a non-Christian reason for the superior academic achievements of children.
Studies, however, show that academic achievement is superior in Christian students across all levels of family income.
Others have tried to attribute the increased academic achievement of religious students to their neighborhoods. This theory supposes that religious children come from less dangerous neighborhoods and therefore more likely to have increased academic achievement.
However, the religious effect on academic achievement exists in all neighborhoods and does not have an independent association with zip code.
Still, others believe this religious effect only holds for certain ethnic groups – usually attributed to white students. However, studies indicate that school performance is better in religious students of all ethnic groups. In fact, the effect is even greater for African-American and Hispanic students than white students.
Another theory is that academic achievement is really more related to the improved family life of religious students; that the parents pay more attention to their children’s education and encouraged their achievement more than those of non-religious parents.
Religious parents have increased expectations for academic excellence from their children; they more often discuss their homework and are move involved with their school than secular parents. Their children are more closely supervised and the home situation tends to be more stable than in households of secular parents.
Religious students also have higher expectations about their own academic performance, they study more, are more involved in school, use drugs less, and are far less likely to cut class or skip school.
A more favorable home environment coupled with increased involvement from their parents and church provides effective student attitudes that support academic achievement. Both students and parents have higher academic expectations from their children than do secular parents.
Weekly church attendance was found by another study to have a positive effect on academic performance. Students who attended church “once a week or more” had GPAs 14.4 percent higher than those who never attended. William Jenyes in “The Effects of Religious Commitment on Academic Achievement of Urban and Other Children” found that students who identify themselves as “religious” are involved in church youth groups, and attend church services weekly score higher on standardized tests gauging performance in math, science, social studies, and reading, and were less likely to be held back in school. He also found that students who attended church weekly hare also significantly more likely to graduate and receive a high school diploma.
In fact, James Coleman noted in the publication “Social Capital in the Creation of Human Capital” that the high school dropout rate for weekly church attenders was about half of what it was for those who never attended church.
Finally, there is the primary effect of religion has on children that is independent of their family input. As one researcher notes,
There is something particularly religious in religion, which is not reducible to nonreligious explanation. … [Religion directly exerts] pro-social influences in the lives of youth not by happenstance or generic social processes. … [but] precisely as an outcome of … particular theological, moral, and spiritual commitments.
Using statistical analysis, there is a significant influence of religious belief on the academic performance of students that is independent of family and individual effects.
The above-noted findings represent those of religious students in public schools. When the performance of students attending religious schools is compared with those at public schools, the results are even more dramatic.
Students at religious schools perform far better on all measures of educational achievement. Of course, secular educators have spent much effort in trying to explain away the religious effect of attending religious schools and attribute other influences.
The primary charge is there is a selection bias favoring private, religious schools. They attribute this selection bias as the reason for the superior performance of religious schools.
Statistical controls for student background do not eliminate or even substantially reduce the differences between public and private religious schools. In fact, students with a prior history of poor academic performance at private schools demonstrate significant improvement when transferring to a private religious school. Minority students benefit the most from attending religious schools.
Religious schools benefit from far more dedicated teachers who work in a religious school often paying less than in private schools. These teachers sustain an environment that is more conducive to education and involve parents in their children’s education. There is far less misbehavior such as talking back to teachers, let along threatening to attack teachers than in public schools.
There tends to be greater racial harmony in religious school, and far less violence, less drug use, and less delinquency.
A national survey involving more than fifty thousand students known as the High School and Beyond Study. Catholic schools are shown to be incredibly more effective in graduating their students, especially those from poor backgrounds and lower-income environments. While 28 percent of students from families in the lowest economic environment dropped out from the public schools, only 7 percent of students from similar economic backgrounds dropped out from Catholic schools. For Hispanics, this comparison is 23 percent versus 6 percent.
There is an achievement gap in America between white students and their African American classmates. This gap exists on every measure of academic achievement, standardized test results, grades, being held back in school, and graduation rates. The average African American student scores several grade levels behind white students of the same age. These differences only increase over time until graduation from high school.
An achievement gap also exists between white students and Hispanics. This difference is thought to represent the recent immigration status of many Hispanic students. However, similar gaps appeared once for other ethnic minorities but quickly disappeared; many educators believe this will eventually occur for Hispanics as well. This belief is indeed supported by research which shows the gap between whites and their Hispanic counterparts decreases as they approach graduation – the exact opposite of the white – African American gap.
The gap between whites and African Americans continues to exist over many decades and has not responded to a variety of programs aimed at its elimination. The Head Start Program was initiated in 1965 to compensate for the preschool disadvantages of African Americans. However, studies have found that any positive initial effects of Head Start programs (and there may well not be any significant results) disappear quickly after children start school.
The No Child Left Behind program was begun in 2001 with the aim of testing and improving schools with the goal of improving the academic achievement of African Americans and narrowing the achievement gap. Making schools accountable for academic shortcomings turned out to be particularly difficult especially with the opposition of teachers’ unions.
When it comes to the achievement gap in religious school,
- The achievement gap between whites and African Americans is considerably smaller in religious schools than in public education,
- The achievement gap is smaller among students who are religious,
- The achievement gap is also smaller among students having intact families with a father and mother both at home
When social scientists combined all three factors – that is, controlled for religious students in religious schools with intact families – there is no academic achievement gap. Under these circumstances, African American students do as well as white – and both groups excel over their respective groups stuck in public schools.
Of course, nothing can be done to help students with broken families – particularly with no father in the house. Similarly, nothing can be done realistically to make students more religious. But school vouchers would certainly make religious education more accessible to more lower-income families and might spur improvement in public education with more competition.
The predominant assumption in America is that to be truly successful in life, you need to have a college education. In recent years, this belief has been seriously challenged by the perception that colleges are not training their students for the job markets that exist upon their graduation.
The stereotype persists that religious people tend to be uneducated. This belief is usually traced to two studies performed by Alfred Darnel and Darren Sherkat. These two sociologists demonstrated that some small and marginal groups of Christians do not send their children to college.
However, it is inappropriate to generalize these findings to all of religious America. When Kraig Beyerlein distinguished groups within Protestant fundamentalists, he found that Evangelical Protestants were second only to Jews in being college-educated, significantly exceeding all other religious groups as well as the nonreligious.
Since religious students in secondary education do better on standardized tests and on achievement tests, it would be surprising if they did not also show superior performance in college. One study indeed demonstrated that the more students attended church, the more likely they were to go to college.
Evaluation of the General Social Survey shows that there is a correlation between church attendance and educational achievement. These data show that among both white and African American students, weekly church attenders are more likely than those who never attend church to have gone to college and less likely to have dropped out of high school. These differences are very statistically significant.
In short, the idea that churchgoers are less educated is demonstrably false.
Occupational prestige is one of the most carefully studied areas of social science.
A national sample of Americans in 1947 was presented with a list of eighty-seven occupations and asked to rate the “general standing” of each job as excellent, good, average, somewhat below average, or poor. These rating computed scores for each occupation with a score ranging from 20 to 200. The highest occupation was that of a “U.S. Supreme Court Justice” with a score of 94, and the lowest was “Show Shiner” with a score of 34.
This study was repeated 15 years later and the results were identical. It was found that the prestige of the occupation could be predicted by the amount of education required for its achievement.
Analysis of the occupations of both whites and African Americans showed weekly church attenders were more likely than those who did not ever go to church as having an upper-prestige occupation and significantly less likely to hold a low prestige occupation.
Given that religious Americans are more likely to go to college and graduate, it should not be surprising that this would not translate into having a more prestigious occupation requiring more education.
It seems that religion affects occupational success through education, doing better in school, less likely to get into trouble with the law, and increased graduation rates.
Since religious people tend to have the most prestigious job positions, it should not be surprising that they tend to acquire greater wealth than their non-religious counterparts. This also relates to less tendency toward activities that might adversely affect wealth collection such as criminal activity, gambling, extra-marital affairs, or being a high school dropout.
It turns out to be difficult to determine the wealth of a group; surveys concerning personal or family wealth have been shown not to be accurate. But there are indirect measures of wealth that can be determined.
Among both whites and African Americans, weekly church attendance is associated with a far greater tendency to house ownership than those who never attend.
Another measure is stock ownership. Responses to the question, “In the past twelve months have you invested money in a stock or mutual funds” were tallied. Results show that 18 percent of weekly church attendees had invested in the stock market compared to only 9 percent of non-attenders.
Another recent study from Duke University shows that Catholics tended to have increased wealth mobility than others. Wealth mobility is defined as moving from one economic status to an improved economic status.
It is a myth that there is no wealth mobility in America. Wealth mobility often occurs when an individual achieves an education or trade, is in a stable relationship, does not commit criminal activity, and is frugal with their money. These activities are more common in religious Americans resulting in improved economic status with movement up the economic ladder.
This notion is supported by a recent study done at Harvard University showing how family life stability and social structure offered by religious beliefs are the most important factors in social mobility. They noted,
For instance, high upward mobility areas [of the United States] tended to have higher fractions of religious individuals and fewer children raised by single parents. Each of these correlations remained strong even after controlling for measures of tax expenditures.
Again, the increased measure of stock ownership is likely related to improved jobs and educational levels, beginning with improved school achievement.
Religious Americans defined largely by church attendance achieve higher levels of occupational, economic and educational success. Religious Americans have many advantages over others which play a role in the choice and achievement of their careers.
They are far less likely to be handicapped by having police records, more likely to have attractive personal qualities such as niceness and generosity. They are less likely to come from broken homes, and more likely to develop self-discipline and responsibility. They are less likely to have premarital pregnancies, extramarital scandals, have depression and neuroses (which can seriously damage professional careers). They are more likely to be healthy with less absenteeism due to less smoking and drinking.
In short, religiousness is a comprehensive lifestyle and worldview that is conducive to societal advancement and wealth accumulation resulting in improved happiness and satisfaction with life.